Del Oro High School is tops in API scores

School attributes higher test results to a better focus
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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Del Oro High School students got a whole lot smarter last year, or at least that’s what state tests indicate. Higher student test scores on last spring’s STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) earned the school a 41-point leap in its Academic Performance Index (API) score for the 2008-2009 school year. With an API score of 831, Del Oro ranks first in the Placer Union High School District and is just nine points below Granite Bay High School, in the Roseville high school district. But school officials don’t think the students got any smarter, they said students and staff just got more serious about taking the state-mandated tests. “We consider ourselves a very academic school, but we’ve always used the standards as a guide. We wanted to teach beyond the standards and teach critical thinking skills. We wanted our students to read and write at a higher level. Those don’t fall under content-type rote memory tests,” said Paul Lundberg, a Del Oro vice principal. “We’ve tried to ready kids for college more than just teach standards.” Lundberg said it’s much more challenging for instructors to teach critical thinking and much easier to teach the basic standards. Junior Kai Von plays on Del Oro’s varsity football team and said STAR class rallies were held for the students last spring. “That got the competitive spirit going,” Kai said. He said knowing Del Oro’s API ranking was below schools that they competed against in sports inspired him to “want to do better.” “I tried harder,” Kai said. Kathryn Rush, a senior who improved her language arts score, said, “My focus was better.” Kathryn liked the incentives offered to students and said the rally helped her realize STAR scores are important to the school. Student motivators included a five percent increase in their class grades if they scored “advanced” on the tests or raised their scores to proficient if they previously scored at or below basic.Senior Rio Love said the class rallies really helped her raise the math scores in last spring’s test. “None of us saw the benefits (before). It was just torture for us,” Rio said of taking STAR tests. Last year, Lundberg said the staff created a more serious testing culture. He said they “packaged it differently” and promoted testing to students in the grade-level rallies. He said they also held a review day for students. Lundberg credits staff members such as Dylan Holcomb, Justin Cutts and Kathy Myers for a concerted effort to analyze the STAR data and determine how scores could be improved. “We took it very seriously last year,” said Myers, an English 12 instructor. Myers said she believes the school can hold or improve the scores for the 2010 tests. Teachers are working in “professional communities” to take the test results and determine what the students may be lacking, she said. “You won’t see us teaching to the test. It limits the amount of rigor the classes have,” Myers said. Lundberg said Del Oro does not want to change its curriculum to teach only the state standards in order to improve the API score. “We are a truly comprehensive high school with a diverse array of choices – leadership, FFA and shop classes – that other schools don’t have. We give a lot more options in our curriculum,” he added. “We have to find the right balance between the culture of