Half of the students in Lodi Unified School District's elementary schools are still earning scores below 749 in the annual API exam, and half of those are under 700.
The district's goal is to have every school over 800, but none of the Title 1 campuses are close to reaching that mark, current data shows.
But Catherine Pennington, assistant superintendent of primary education, says the numbers only tell part of the story.
The Academic Performance Index, more commonly known as an API, is an accountability system that measures school and district growth over a two-year cycle.
Although individual student scores from each year within a two year-cycle are used, the system is a measure of the progress of the overall instructional program rather than an indicator of individual student growth. As such, individuals and groups of students may be making considerable gains from one year to the next, and the API may not reflect this if students changed schools or districts from during the two-year cycle, Pennington said in an email.
"Even with this qualification, however, the majority of our schools with an API of less than 700 continue to make gains in the growth API (released at a different time of the year)," she said.
Title 1 schools refer to those that receive special funding because of a high number of low-income students.
To qualify, typically 40 percent or more of the school's students must come from families who fall under the United States Census's definition as low-income, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
In Lodi Unified, the funds are provided to schools that have at least 75 percent free and reduced lunch rate.
The Title I program provides supplementary funds to support students who are failing or most at risk of failing to meet state academic standards, according to Lisa Kotowski, director of curriculum who oversees categorical funding.
Funds can be used for, but are not limited to, personnel such as instructional coaches and intervention teachers, professional development for staff, parent involvement activities, supplemental materials and after-school tutoring or intercession, she said.
All expenditures must be included in the official School Plan and be aligned with the achievement goals identified in the plan.
Layoffs, other cuts
Some feel Lodi Unified's Title 1 schools unfairly received the brunt of layoffs last spring.
"This is not acceptable," Trustee Bonnie Cassel said earlier this year. "We can not just sit back and say, 'That's too bad.' "
But it's not clear if her claim is true.
The district's personnel department could not provide a list of schools that this year's 177 pink-slipped teachers taught at last year. Assistant Superintendent Michael McKilligan said the decisions regarding who received lay-off notices and who did not was not related to seniority or school site.
Title 1 schools tend to get the newest teachers because those who are retained typically want to transfer to the district's newer schools, union president Jeff Johnston confirmed.
Pennington, too, said those schools often have some of the newest teachers, so they have seen a lot of disruption in teaching staff during the past few years due to the budget situation and the resulting layoffs.
"Schools have developed high performing teams through quality professional development and collaboration only to have staff change year to year," she said, adding that there are other contributing factors including a high degree of student transiency. "Instructional coaches and intervention teachers (also) expand the staff at Title I schools to provide additional support to both students and teachers," Pennington said.
However, those positions, too, were reduced this school year due to budget cuts.
Staff agree that layoffs may have affected the performance of Clairmont Elementary's students, according Principal Susan Hitchcock.
The school is among those with scores under the 749 mark, although students there increased their score twice in the last three years. In fact, in six years, they have steadily raised the 684 earned in 2004 to 745 last year.How did they do it?
"You just keep fine-tuning what you have in place all with the focus of the goal that all students will achieve at grade level," Hitchcock said.
When she first became principal, she worked to change the thought process of others who thought that students who spoke English as a second language or were below the poverty line cannot excel as well as their counterparts. "We just have to have the expectation of high academic achievement. There was no reason for us to be at the bottom," Hitchcock said.
"Over time, it has come to the expectation that students will learn at grade level," she said, adding that after-school programs have aligned their curriculum with the regular school days to keep students consistent.
School staff examined the data and recognized that one of the underlying areas of poor performance was writing. Without that mastery, she said, students struggled with critical thinking skills.
Hitchcock then revised the classroom management policies schoolwide and created a zero-tolerance of disciplinary issues.
"If teachers can't teach, students can't learn," she said.
She also enlisted parent input, such as launching programs to encourage mothers and fathers to come on campus to read to students. But again, with budget cuts, that has been eliminated.
In state test results released in May, 10 district schools had a base API of at least 800 points, while another eight schools earned a base API between 750 and 799. In all, 34 schools — more than 70 percent of the district's campuses — received a base API of at least 800 points.
There is some growth, points out Ed Eldridge, who oversees the district's data assessment.
Specifically, of the nine non-alternative schools which received a 2010 Growth API of less than 700, six have a higher Growth API in 2010 than in 2009, he said.
Further, of the six Title 1 schools from 2009-10 with a 2010 Growth API of less than 700, all but one had a higher Growth API in 2010 than in 2009.
Eldridge said the district is close to reaching its goal of every school receiving an 800 base API, given the number of students within 100 points of the goal.
Time will tell. Preliminary base scores will be released on Wednesday.
When the same results were released last year, they showed that more local schools met or surpassed the coveted 800-or-more mark, but others continue to trail the state average.
Forty-six percent of all California schools were at or above the overall statewide target API of 800, compared to just 24 percent in Lodi Unified in 2010.
The district's schools with the highest APIs were Aspire Vincent Shalvey Academy and Elkhorn Elementary School, with scores of 927 and 988 respectively.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools and school districts to meet a variety of academic performance goals in order to reach its Academic Yearly Progress rate.
The state's data release included the Accountability Progress Report, comprised of the state Academic Performance Index, the federal Adequate Yearly Progress, and the federal Program Improvement.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at email@example.com.