Sonoma County schools overall continue to post gains on California's key measure of academic performance, yet more local schools than ever have fallen behind academic targets set forth under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
In addition, local students are not making gains on the state scale at the same rate as their peers across the state.
While county students increased their scores by an average of nine points on the state scale, California schools overall on average boosted their performance on the Academic Performance Index by 13 points. Sonoma County remains ahead of the state's average on the API score at 779, compared with 767.
The state goal is 800 out of a possible 1,000.
Both the API and the federal No Child Left Behind law's adequate yearly progress targets are based largely on the Standardized Testing and Reporting program exams given to students in grades two through 11 each spring.
"The rest of the state is catching up and we need to analyze why we are not making as much progress year-to-year," said Sonoma County Office of Education Superintendent Carl Wong.
Last year, Sonoma County schools posted an average jump of 15 points. Still, a number of schools in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties posted massive gains. Calpella Elementary in Ukiah tops that list with a spike of 86 points, while Kawana Elementary in the Bellevue District surged 70 points.
West Side Elementary in Healdsburg and Rincon Valley Charter School gained 65 points, and Cook Middle School in Santa Rosa gained 61 points.
Still, more Sonoma County campuses than ever before fell into program improvement — the penalty portion of the federal No Child Left Behind Law.
Last year, 33 schools started program improvement sanctions. There were 40 this year. No school or district in the county exited, said Nancy Brownell, county Office of Education assistant superintendent. Only schools that receive federal Title 1 funds, which target low-income students, can be hit with sanctions.
Statewide, 52 percent of campuses receiving Title 1 money are in program improvement, said Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of schools.
Nearly 570 schools fell under Year 1 sanctions after missing two consecutive years of target scores, while only 83 campuses exited program improvement.
Targets are climbing by about 11 percent each year until 2013-2014 when all students will be required to be proficient or advanced in core subjects.
"What kind of accountability system do you have when 100 percent of your schools are going to be program improvement" by 2013-14?, O'Connell said Monday as the state Department of Education published the results.
"I think the fairest, accurate portrayal of a school's performance is improvement," he said. "The starting line is not the same for all students."
Local educators expressed equal parts pride and frustration that county students continue to post academic gains while an increasing number of campuses are falling under sanctions that can lead to replacement of staff, school closure and other options.
"It's really no surprise to anyone that more and more districts are falling into program improvement and more and more schools are falling into program improvement because that is the model the (federal) government is using," said Sharon Liddell, superintendent of Santa Rosa City Schools.
Santa Rosa, the county's largest school district, is expected to enter Year 3 of program improvement sanctions this year for failing to meet the necessary benchmarks for all of its subgroups.