Schools hit STAR targets

By Corey Pride / Cpride@losbanosenterprise.comOctober 20, 2012 

The test results are in and the Los Banos Unified School District is making strides in having all of its schools surpass state expectations.

"We're pleased with the progress we've made, but we realize we still have challenges," said Superintendent Steve Tietjen about the Standardized Testing and Reporting results released last week by the state Department of Education.

The test, which was administered in April, measures the proficiency levels of second- through 11th-graders in subjects such as English language arts, science and history. An 800 Academic Performance Index score is considered the benchmark for California schools.

Westside Union Elementary and Lorena Falasco Elementary crossed the 800 barrier for the first time, with API scores of 807 and 800 respectively. The district had 105 students achieve a perfect score.

Of Los Banos' seven elementary schools, Henry Miller had the lowest at 700. Principal Jason Waltman, who was hired in August partly to improve test scores, said he is happy to see the score increase from 693 but he is hoping for better.

"(The score) does tell you what areas you need to improve," Waltman said. "We're working hard; the teachers are, the parents are. We're going to give it our best shot."

Tietjen said Henry Miller has a more difficult task because of the lower literacy level in homes in that area. Nevertheless, Tietjen believes the school has reached a milestone.

"Henry Miller is making progress," he said. "It's a psychological jump to be out of the 600s."

On the other end of the spectrum, Charleston Elementary had the highest API at 842. The number was down from 860 last year, but still above the state's target of 800. However, Principal Lou Ruiz is not satisfied.

"We hit 864 one year," he said.

Ruiz said he tries to encourage parental involvement and provide incentives for students, like field trips to maintain high scores.

"It's kind of like a carrot at the end, something at the end the kids want," he said.

Los Banos Junior High increased its API from 732 in 2011 to 733 this year. Tietjen said overcrowding at the school, which is expected to have 1,500 students by the next school year, may have contributed to the minimal increase.

"Historically, a smaller school is going to do better than a larger school. At a larger school, students feel they can disengage and stay under the radar. We're going to have to address that," Tietjen said.

Los Banos High School increased its API from 769 in 2011 to 775 in 2012. Pacheco High garnered the same number, 738, for both years. Tietjen said both schools have large populations of English learners; he's hoping a switch on the STAR test from multiple choice to a written format helps students. Tietjen said the good news this year is the API scores for English learners improved districtwide.

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