Sunday, February 18 , 2018, 12:51 pm | Fair 61º


Santa Barbara High School May Face Sanctions Under No Child Left Behind

School officials are puzzled about why the school has been dinged, and say they will question the state's calculations.

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Students mingle as the school day comes to an end Thursday at Santa Barbara High School, which could face sanctions by the federal government under the No Child Left Behind law. (Rob Kuznia / Noozhawk photo)

Despite making sizable gains in its English and math scores, Santa Barbara High School could be among the latest batch of local schools to be sanctioned by the federal government under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The news about Santa Barbara High came as part of the state’s annual report card for local schools. Released to all school districts in California on Thursday, the report delivered mixed results for Santa Barbara public schools as a whole, showing the usual range from not so good to stratospheric. (Click here to see the API scores of all schools in the county.)

As for Santa Barbara High, by the numbers in the report, at first glance it would appear the school will be dinged for the test scores of its English learners in English. (Click here to see the results.) But in a display of how convoluted the results of test scores can be, administrators said they are puzzled because they were under the impression the school had received a break for the improvement those students had posted in that area.

Davis Hayden, the district’s director of research and technology, speculated that the pockmark may owe to another matter: the graduation rate of some of the school’s disadvantaged students.

Hayden said he will be questioning the state on its calculations, which have been incorrect in the past. But if the designation holds up, Santa Barbara High would have to join the five other sanctioned schools in Santa Barbara’s K-12 school system that must send all families living within the attendance boundaries a letter informing them that they may send their child to a higher-performing school, with the district picking up the tab for transportation.

As is the case annually, embedded in the milieu of the information released Thursday were two sets of measurements, one from the state Department of Education and one from the federal government. The state numbers tend to offer a snapshot of how schools are performing and improving as a whole. The federal numbers focus on how schools are serving their most disadvantaged students.

In general, Santa Barbara schools tend to fare pretty well on the statewide measure, and below the state average on the federal measure.

In the federal system, schools are sanctioned — or fall into what is called “Program Improvement” — after two consecutive years of not measuring up. In other words, schools get two strikes. In Santa Barbara’s K-12 school system this year, just six of 20 schools met the federal target. That is a 30 percent success rate. Across the state, 52 percent of the schools met the target, according to the results. (However, in Santa Barbara, just six schools are in Program Improvement.) 

In all, Santa Barbara’s elementary schools performed slightly below the state average on math and English scores. Considering Santa Barbara’s demographics, that’s likely to be expected.

In Santa Barbara, where about 70 percent of the elementary school district’s students are Latino, nearly half of the district’s students are classified as non-native English speakers, also known in official terms as English learners. Across the state, where slightly less than half of the students are Latino, just a quarter of all students are classified as English learners. Also, Santa Barbara has a higher-than-state-average proportion of students classified as poor: 59 percent compared with 50 percent.

The local junior high and high schools performed well above the state average. Those schools include a smaller proportion of disadvantaged students because they include pupils from Montecito and Goleta.

By the numbers, the Santa Barbara school struggling the most remains the Eastside’s bilingual Cesar Chavez Charter School, which received a 636 on its Academic Performance Index (API), the second-lowest score in the county next to Alvin Elementary School in Santa Maria. A product of the state measuring system, the API is a numeric index that ranges from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000 with a statewide target of 800. It is based on the scores of a barrage of math and English tests that students take at the end of each academic year.

The test-score star in Santa Barbara remains Washington Elementary, a magnet school for the gifted and talented located on the Mesa that scored an 892, the ninth-highest score of the nearly 100 schools across the county. The highest score in the county was achieved by Cold Spring Elementary in Montecito, which landed a 950.

In the Goleta elementary district, Mountain View School scored the highest with a 923, and El Camino the lowest with a 751.

The scores revealed the confusion that can result from releasing two sets of data: Some schools performed quite well by state standards, and quite poorly by federal standards.

One such case is Goleta Valley Junior High. The school, at 6100 Stow Canyon Road, was the other local school to be added to the federal government’s list of sanctioned schools, yet achieved a respectable API score of 800. (In fact, the state considers a score of 800 or higher to be the gold standard.)

It was marked by the federal government for its failure to adequately improve the scores of its most disadvantaged students. In need of improvement are the English and math scores of students with disabilities and students who are “economically disadvantaged,” and the math scores of Latino students, according to the results.

As for Santa Barbara High School, by the state measure it posted impressive improvements, raising its API score 30 points to 754, tying the score of San Marcos High. (Dos Pueblos High in Goleta posted a 788.)

But by the federal benchmarks, the school for two consecutive years has failed to raise the English scores of its English learners high enough, according to the report.

In the report for the school year that ended in 2007, about 15 percent of the school’s English learners were considered proficient in English, but the federal bar was set at 22 percent. In 2008, the proportion of proficient English learners improved, reaching 24 percent. Meanwhile, the federal hurdle rose to 33 percent, but Hayden said the school may have gotten a break for its improvement. 

Further confusing the situation, the school as a whole fared well on its graduation rate, which is listed at 90.6 percent. To pass, the rate needs to be at least 83 percent.

But Hayden said deeper research revealed that the graduation rates of at least two specific groups of disadvantaged students were beneath 83 percent. For English learners, he said, it was listed at about 80 percent; for students with disabilities, 77 percent.  He said many questions still need to be answered.

“I don’t know about this data,” he said Thursday. “It looks iffy to me.”

Santa Barbara High Principal Mark Capritto couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

Other schools sank deeper into the federal sanctions. In their first year of sanctions — which in No Child Left Behind parlance is referred to as Year One of “Program Improvement” — schools must send the letter. The sanctions steepen until year five, when schools technically can be shut down and reopened as charter schools, but that rarely happens in California. More often, they are monitored more closely by more administrators at the local, county and state levels.

In Santa Barbara, three schools entered year five: La Cumbre Junior High School, Santa Barbara Junior High and McKinley Elementary.

Robin Sawaske, the district’s associate superintendent of instruction, said no significant changes will occur at any of those schools because they are all in the midst of implementing successful long-term improvement plans.

“There’s no reason for us at this point to change direction,” she said. “We know we are on the right track.”

Both junior high schools, for instance, improved their API scores by 16 points: La Cumbre to 743 and Santa Barbara Junior High to 776.

McKinley recently won a $300,000-a-year grant to lower class sizes for seven years. That new structure began this year, and fourth- through sixth-grade students learn in classrooms with a cap of 25 students, instead of 30.

The other schools that have been sanctioned are Franklin and Harding elementary schools.

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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