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State removes THS from lowest-achieving schools list

Five TUSD elementary schools on program improvement watch

POSTED March 12, 2010 10:06 p.m.
The anxiety many Turlock High administrators, teachers, staff members and students felt since learning the school was placed on the persistently lowest-achieving schools list on Monday was relieved on Thursday.
That was when the State Department of Education removed Turlock High School from the list that could have brought about big changes at the school including closure. The U.S. Department of Education still has to approve the final state list, but school administrators are confident Turlock High will remain out of the hot seat.
“I’d be remiss in saying that we are not going to take this unfortunate situation and use it to improve academic achievement among all our students,” said Dana Trevethan, Turlock High principal. “THS is now of the mindset to surpass and maintain a high level of expectations for academic rigor aligned to state standards for all students on campus.”
Turlock High was removed from the list after state staff filed a waiver requesting the removal of the high school from the roster.
The waiver allows schools that are above the bottom five percent of the Tier I list to be transferred to the Tier II list — avoiding any drastic changes to the school’s daily operation, said Lacrisha Ferriera, TUSD assistant superintendent for academic services.
“We as a district can never get close to this list ever again,” she said. “We need to ramp it up, use this as leverage and get as much mileage as we can out of this. There is a sense of urgency now to be better.”  
While Turlock High was removed from the list, five Turlock elementary schools remain on the list of persistently lowest-achieving schools. The five schools are Dennis Earl, Cunningham, Julien, Osborn and Wakefield.
The elementary schools on the lowest-achieving schools list are not in the bottom five percent, however, and will not be required to undergo the four major transformations that Turlock High School was almost required to do. The schools will have the option to apply for an improvement grant that could potentially give each site $50,000 to $2 million, Ferriera said.  
The five elementary schools placed on the list were no surprise to district administrators as they were placed on the list because they are program improvement schools, she said.
The district has not yet decided whether they will apply for the grant money. The five elementary schools are not expected to be in the bottom five percent because they have been improving over the years, Ferriera said.
Turlock High was originally placed on this list after the State Department of Education evaluated each school by three main criteria.
Each school was evaluated by their three-year average proficiency rate for English Language Arts and Math based on the California High School Exit Exam; the five-year average of Academic Performance Index growth, which needs to have a total growth of 50 points; and their graduation rates for the past three years, which must be above 60 percent, according to the preliminary identification criteria provided by the state.
Turlock High School’s three year average of proficient students tested with the CAHSEE in Language Arts is 45.6 percent proficient with 73 percent passing and 40.9 percent proficient in Math with 76 percent passing, according to Turlock High reports. Students must score a 350 on the CAHSEE to pass and a 380 to be proficient.
Over the past five years, Turlock High’s API growth has totaled 49 points out of the required 50 points, according to Turlock High reports. Turlock’s current API score is 719.
The last criteria the Department of Education considered were graduation rates. Turlock High’s graduation rates for the last three years have an average of 88.16 percent, according to Turlock High reports. To be on this list, the state looked for schools with a graduation rate of 60 percent or lower.
Despite Turlock High’s stay of execution, the district still plans to implement some changes to better student achievement.
“Whether or not we make it on the adopted list, we are looking very critically at everything at Turlock High School,” said Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Sonny Da Marto after the Monday announcement of Turlock High’s place on the list.
The Turlock High Transparent Leadership Team will be bringing new programs and implementing some positive changes, Trevethan said.  Some of the changes that TLT is focusing on are teacher collaboration time, maximizing instructional time, academic rigor for all students, increased alignment to the adopted curriculum, student interventions and parent participation. They plan to release their “cohesive systemic plan” in late April.
Even though most administrators are still shocked and confused about being placed on the lowest-achieving schools list, they are excited about making some necessary changes.  
“This is the momentum we need to propel ourselves forward faster,” Ferriera said.
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.

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