Schools in Merced County are doing well on test scores when compared to those with similar demographics statewide, according to the county's top school administrator.
Steve Gomes, superintendent of the Merced County Office of Education, delivered the annual Education Report to more than 100 business, civic and school leaders at the Los Banos Community Center on Feb. 27.
Gomes stressed the importance of "similar school rankings" when judging Academic Performance Index scores in the county that are lower than districts elsewhere in California.
"If you Google Merced County Education, those are some of the things that come up and they are not complimentary. Some of the API scores are not as high," Gomes said. "Those other schools do not have the demographics we have.
"The biggest factor that impacts Academic Performance Index is parents' education level, the second one is socio-economic status, the next thing is English-language learners. For schools to get up to 800 in our county is a difficult thing to do."
The state target for schools is an 800 API score. In 2012, only 32 of Merced County's 80 schools achieved an 800 API or above. In the Los Banos Unified School District Charleston, Lorena Falasco, Volta and Westside Union elementary schools hit or surpassed the target.
Gomes said test results in Merced County have to be compared with schools that have similar demographics.
"If you're comparing schools like Planada Elementary School District -- 100 percent free and reduced lunch, 61 percent English-language learners -- to Palo Alto or Marin County, that's apples and oranges."
Gomes said similar school rankings are not an excuse for poor test performance. He said what he likes about the No Child Left Behind law is that it measures the progress of English learners.
Aside from test scores, the 20-page Education Report measures scholarships, school budgets and the MCOE Foundation and county schools' departments and programs.
Gomes said he wants schools in Merced County to concentrate on the future. Gomes told a story about Wayne Gretzky being asked about his scoring during his hockey career. Gretzky reportedly said he never focused on where the puck was, but where it would soon arrive.
"Let's team up to go where the puck is," he said.
Merced County Teacher of the Year Valentina Mascarro of Los Banos Junior High School spoke about the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement program. She said besides competing in regional math and science-based competitions, MESA students visit college campuses and are encouraged to pursue higher education.
Antonio Castanada, a Dos Palos High School student, said what he learned through his school's Regional Occupation Program has allowed him to assist his parents with accounting and tax filings at his family's business.
"ROP has shown me how to manage money and employees," Castanada said. "Everybody needs to know how to manage time and money and through the ROP program, I've been able to learn these skills. I'm thankful for that."
Delanie Inman, a UC Merced student, also touted the advantages of getting a college education close to home. Inman is from Los Banos.
The 2012 Education Report for Merced County can be viewed at www.mcoe.org/annualreport.