Sonoma County Schools posted academic improvements in 2012 when compared with other schools across California, according to data released by the California Department of Education.
Twelve Sonoma County schools earned the top score of 10 when compared with 100 schools with similar demographics, including student poverty, percentage of English language learners and parent education. Eleven schools earned the mark last year.
Five schools, Technology High School in Rohnert Park, Hillcrest Middle School in Sebastopol, Corona Creek Elementary School in Petaluma, Austin Creek Elementary School in Santa Rosa and Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School, earned a 10 when compared to all other schools in the state no matter their demographics. That is up from three schools last year.
For the second year in a row, Technology High School in Rohnert Park scored a 10 in both similar schools and state ranking. It was alone in that honor last year but was joined this time around by Hillcrest and Corona Creek.
Hillcrest Principal David Fichera credited the teaching staff of the 293-student charter school with creating individualized instruction while still covering state standards.
"They are highly dedicated," he said. "They do whatever they can to meet students where they are and take them to the next level."
The latest results are based on tests taken in spring 2012 and give an index score up to 1,000 that is then used for comparison rankings on a scale of 1 to 10.
The Academic Performance Index, or API, is a key measurement of student achievement, using tests linked to state academic standards in English, math and science in various grade levels.
The numbers include those that will be used as a baseline to determine if schools and districts meet federal targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law. That information is expected to be released in September.
Across Sonoma County, 66 percent of schools either maintained their similar school rank or improved. Thirty-four percent fell when compared to similar schools.
Critics of the similar schools comparisions have long argued that the rankings do not reflect a school's academic growth from prior years, but simply how that school compares to others.
Sixteen schools in Sonoma County received the lowest possible score when compared with other campuses with similar demographics.
Three of Sonoma Valley School District's five elementary campuses scored a one in both the statewide and similar school comparison. No school in the district scored higher than a two when compared with similar schools.
Sonoma Superintendent Louann Carlomagno said the district has put its focus on the upcoming implementation of Common Core standards and assessments which backers contend will literally rewrite the way students are both taught and assessed.
The similar schools ranking has value in allowing officials to examine what other schools are doing to boost learning, but not all schools in the cohort are truly similar, Carlomagno said.
"Flowery Elementary is a dual (language) immersion school. I believe I found four out of the hundred" that were dual immersion, she said of one of the schools that scored a one. "Truly how similar is the school if it's not a dual immersion school?"
Bellevue School District in south Santa Rosa has the highest percentage of students living in poverty of any of Sonoma County's 40 school districts. It also has the second-lowest state academic scores among the county's elementary school districts.