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Students from Elmhurst Community Prep School walk away from campus Monday, March 8, 2010 in Oakland, Calif. Elmhurst and Alliance Academy were among five Oakland schools that were named by the State of California as having failed to achieve minimal results in standardized test scores. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

Five schools in Oakland, five in Hayward and one in San Lorenzo are among 188 statewide that have been deemed "persistently lowest-achieving" on a preliminary list released Monday by state education officials.

The unwelcome distinction was given to schools that posted low scores on reading and math tests in the past three years and that have shown little improvement, based on the state education department's analysis.

In Hayward, that includes all three of the city's high schools.

The schools will eventually be required to make one of four interventions set forth by the federal government, including the replacement of the principal and staff, closure and charter conversion, state officials said Monday. Those who wish to receive federal school improvement grant funds must do so by this fall; otherwise, the timeline is unspecified.

"There's a lot invested in this," said Deb Sigman, the state's deputy superintendent for curriculum, learning and accountability. "We certainly do hope that the models will yield the appropriate results."

But some say the federal government's prescription for low-achieving schools appears to be more of the same. Charter school conversions, leadership changes and school reorganizations were options under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

In fact, all five of the Oakland schools on the state list were opened in 2004 or later, as new schools with mostly new staffs. One of the schools, Explore Middle School, has already been slated for closure.

"Certainly the schools aren't where we'd like them to be," said Troy Flint, a district spokesman. But, he added, "It really doesn't make sense to return to square one."

Flint said the district administration was still deciding whether to apply for the grants — in part, because of the short timeline required to make the interventions. He also said some of the schools appeared to be mistakenly included, an issue the district had taken up with the state. Among them is Elmhurst Community Prep, an East Oakland middle school that made a 47-point gain on its state test scores in 2008.

District officials in San Lorenzo were not surprised to find the struggling Hillside Elementary campus on the list. The school has failed for years to meet standardized testing goals under No Child Left Behind.

In the past 1½ years, district officials have replaced the school principal and hired teaching coaches for professional development. The school has raised its state standardized test score by 48 points during the past five years, but the improvement was not enough to be removed from the list, Superintendent Dennis Byas said.

Hayward Unified was the only district in Alameda County to have high schools on the list, and all three were on it — Hayward High, Mt. Eden High and Tennyson High.

Interim Superintendent Janis Duran said it was "very disheartening" to see them listed.

This year, Duran added, schedules at the district's high schools were changed to allow for more instructional time, which is an aspect of one of the federal turnaround models. Duran said her staff have not made any decisions about the recommended interventions.

Longwood and Burbank elementary schools were also on the list. Longwood has already been slated for restructuring because of unacceptable test scores, she said, but Burbank has seen a turnaround.

"I would think that attention would be given to the fact that we have recently improved scores," Duran said.

Arun Ramanathan, the new director of Education Trust-West, a civil rights advocacy group based in Oakland, said he believes education reform policy should focus far more heavily on teacher and principal quality — the ability to hire and keep the best staff in the neediest schools. Wholesale staff replacement only makes it harder to carry out long-range improvement, he said, and many struggling schools are already dealing with high turnover.

"When does it ever make sense to fire everybody in a school?" Ramanathan asked. He added, "It's actually depressing that the conversation hasn't changed in 20 years."

The preliminary lists of low-performing schools can be found at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/pl/. The final list, which might include some changes, will be posted Thursday, once the item is approved by the state board of education.

Reporters Eric Kurhi and Kristopher Noceda contributed to this report. Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at www.ibabuzz.com/education. Follow her at Twitter.com/katymurphy.

'persistently lowest-achieving schools' (preliminary list)
ALAMEDA COUNTY
Hayward Unified: Burbank Elementary School, Longwood Elementary School, Tennyson High School, Mt. Eden High School and Hayward High School
Oakland Unified: Alliance Academy, Elmhurst Community Prep, Explore Middle School, ROOTS International, United for Success Academy (all middle schools)
San Lorenzo: Hillside Elementary School

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY
Mt. Diablo Unified: Bel Air Elementary School, Meadow Homes Elementary School, Rio Vista Elementary School, Shore Acres Elementary School, Oak Grove Middle School, Mt. Diablo High School
West Contra Costa Unified: Lincoln Elementary School, De Anza High School and Pinole Valley High School