Once again, California test scores rose this year, the California Department of Education reported Thursday. But the number of schools deemed failures by federal standards also rose again.
In 2006, California schools inched 11 points higher on the state Academic Performance Index which measures a school's performance on a bevy of standardized tests, including the new California High School Exit Exam to reach 720 points out of 1,000.
Despite the modest gains, 639 more California schools were labeled failures under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, bringing the total to 2,215 failing schools statewide.
Oakland public schools' state scores rose 19 points to 653. One Oakland school gained 109 points, and not including charter schools 58 percent met their targeted growth.
But under the federal law, it's a different story: 53 of Oakland's 109 public schools are still in Program Improvement, a label given to schools that don't meetfederal standards.
Oakland Education Association president Betty Olson-Jones said Thursday that schools across the board, but especially those labeled as "failing," should be given extra resources in order to close the achievement gap.
"Some Program Improvement (PI) schools literally have no time for science, social studies or art because they are mandated to bring up their test scores," she said.
But there were some success stories. At Sobrante Park Elementary School in Oakland, where more than half of the students are learning English, the API score jumped 69 points to 729, and the school also shed its PI status.
Phebia Richardson, a case manager for the school's Student Success Team, said she works closely with about a third of the students at the school who are struggling with class work and also meets with their parents.
She attributes the API gain to a low teacher turnover and a focus on reading and mathematics, two subjects the state tests.
Burkhalter and Prescott elementary schools in Oakland were the only other campuses to shed their PI status.
Think College Now, a small Oakland elementary school where 63 percent of students are learning English, increased its API score by 109 points to 718.
While there's no magic bullet, it seems that focus on academic achievement especially on subjects that standardized tests measure not surprisingly, increases test scores.
Principal David Silver said his school places a heavy emphasis on English/language arts and math achievement. Students who are lagging in those subjects are given extra hours of tutoring after school.
"We want to make sure our kids have every opportunity to achieve at the same high levels as kids in the hills, because those are the kids that they are going to have to compete with to get into the college of their choice and to pursue their dreams," said Silver.
Perhaps most striking is that the school raised $200,000 last year in order to fund both extra programs, such as art and the choir, and professional development for teachers, and to keep class sizes at a maximum of 20 students.
Other Oakland schools that made significant gains are Hawthorne Elementary gaining 69 points to 672, Castlemont Business & Information Technology School, gaining 74 points to 526, and East Oakland School of the Arts, gaining 83 points to 508.
The latter two are high schools that were once a part of Castlemont, now broken down into three smaller schools-within-a-school.
Oakland's charter schools ran the gamut, with one school dropping 150 points to 542 and another falling by 80 points to 834, though both had samples too small to be good statistical indicators. Oakland Charter Academy, a 6-8th grade school, jumped 113 points to 857, and Oakland Unity High increased 74 points to 654.
American Indian Public Charter School, a middle school in Oakland, leapt 40 points on the API from 880 to 920, making it one of the highest performing schools in the city.
School director Ben Chavis, who is known as a tough disciplinarian, was most pleased his campus beat out Piedmont Middle School in the affluent neighboring district.
"I have the poor kids and I beat the rich kids," he said. "If other people would do what we do, their scores would go up."
Olson-Jones said while she sees the data as an indicator of growth for these schools, she doesn't believe test scores in general are good indicators of learning.
"Measuring it in standardized tests once a year is a snapshot, at best," she said. "We think a lot more goes into closing the achievement gap and showing learning."
To meet the federal standards, a changing percentage of California students must be proficient in math and English. Student groups based on race, income level and English skills also are expected to perform at that same level. The goal is for 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and English by 2014.
Black students and those learning English as a second language must make significant strides during the next few years to make the grade. Across the state, they continue to be outperformed by other students on standardized tests, results show.
In 2006, black students in California scored a 637 on the API and English learners scored a 640, well below the state average.
"The disparity is unacceptable," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said Thursday. "The African-American achievement gap is real, it's glaring and it's totally unacceptable."
To check the API score or Adequate Yearly Progress report for a school or school district in California, visit http://www.cde.ca.gov/apr.
Staff writer Katy Murphy contributed to this report.