San Mateo schools gain in state tests 

San Mateo County schools boosted scores on the California Academic Performance Index in 2006, with 114 schools gaining over 2005 scores and nearly half earning a score of 800 or more, the benchmark set by state leaders.

California schools have been required since 1999 to annually increase students’ scores on a number of standardized tests, including the California Standards Test and the California High School Exit Exam. That progress is measured through the API, and each school must show annual gains to avoid penalties and sanctions such as curriculum and staff overhaul, allowing students to transfer and, ultimately after six consecutive years of failing to hit benchmarks, state takeover of the school.

One of the biggest gainers between 2005 and 2006 was College Park Elementary School, formerly Turnbull Learning Academy, in the San Mateo-Foster City School District. After four years of state penalties, the school overhauled its name, staff and curriculum — and boosted its API by 76 points, to 673, in 2006.

"We got a $6 million federal magnet grant [that paid for] a program that builds the talents and gifts of all students at the school and has captured the children’s imagination," according to Joan Rosas, assistant superintendent in the San Mateo-Foster City School District. The grant paid for interactive, project-based programs at College Park and Sunnybrae, which saw a 57-point increase in API scores from 2005 to 2006.

North Star Academy, in the Redwood City School District, increased its API 12 points to 985 — just shy of the 1,000-point maximum. North Star is among the 25 top-performing schools in California, according to PeterBurchyns, special advisor to Superintendent Jean Holbrook in the San Mateo County Office of Education.

While North Star is a special case because it is specifically designed for academic achievers, Redwood City’s McKinley Institute of Technology, Taft Elementary and Adelante Spanish Immersion school have all made gains of more than 45 points, according to district Superintendent Jan Christensen.

"At Adelante, they were using storyboards, and we felt like that really helped — and have now incorporated that into the district-wide instruction for all schools," Christensen said.
While many schools made progress, 35 in the county saw lower API scores in 2006 than 2005, a decline all districts are working to remedy. Most officials chalked up the declines to a lack of focus on standards.

Oceana High School, in the Jefferson High School District, slid 34 points despite gains in prior years.

"It’s an issue with how the student body and staff happened to approach the test last time," said Jefferson Superintendent Michael Crilly. "They know they need to refocus, and that’s what they’ve done."

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