Local schools show testing gains, but educators frustrated by federal sanctions

  • Third grade teacher Allison Beckmann helps Jake Nevin, 8, with a question during a math quiz at Corona Creek Elementary School on Thursday, October 11, 2012 in Petaluma, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Corona Creek Elementary School in Petaluma posted a 57-point gain on its state academic rating this year, pushing its score to 939 out of a possible 1,000. Only one other campus in Sonoma County registered a higher score.

And still, under rules laid out under the federal No Child Left Behind Law, Corona Creek is a failing school and in Year 1 of Program Improvement sanctions.

Such is the divide between how the federal and state programs gauge academic success -- a chasm that was brought into further focus Thursday when the California Department of Education released the latest state and federal academic results culled from exams given last spring.

"I think (parents) understand that we are doing everything we can for children, but that something is askew, something is not adding up," said Bob Cmelak, principal at Corona Creek and Superintendent of the Waugh District.

"There is nothing more you can do than have a 57-point gain," he said.

At Corona Creek, Latino students' API scores rose 96 points to 899, while English language learners' went up 101 to 903.

The conflict between federal and state programs is playing out across Sonoma County and California, although it is especially acute for those schools that received federal Title 1 funds, meant to assist socio-economically disadvantaged students.

That's because all schools are graded on whether they meet the federal targets, but only those that receive Title 1 dollars can be labeled in Program Improvement and suffer sanctions.

Statewide, of the 6,209 schools that received Title 1 funds, 4,402 -- 71 percent -- are in Program Improvement status and of those, 699 were identified for the first time this year. Last year, 63 percent of Title 1 schools were in Program Improvement.

"Within the political context, people get it that we are working with two accountability systems that are not aligning," said Mickey Porter, assistant superintendent at the Sonoma County Office of Education. "The juxtaposition that a lot of our schools are having -- they're getting 800 plus (API scores) and getting this Program Improvement label and they are going, 'Whoa.' "

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