An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Martha Baldwin's similar schools ranking. It received a 10.
Despite cuts to education funding, academic performance for the Alhambra Unified School District is improving, according to recently released 2010 statistics. Five of Alhambra’s 16 mainstream schools increased their Academic Performance Index (API) rankings – an achievement measurement for California public schools based on standardized tests. Five schools rank in the top 20 percent of state schools. In addition, the overall base API score continued to improve, as it has for the past five years.
Every spring, the California Department of Education releases two sets of API rankings from 1 to 10 — with 10 representing the top 10 percent. A statewide ranking indicates how a school is performing compared to all schools within California, while the similar school rank shows how a school compares to 100 schools with similar attributes — such as socioeconomic status, population, student ethnicity and parent education level.
Three Alhambra elementary schools — Garfield, Martha Baldwin, and Ynez — earned top academic rankings of “10” when compared to similar schools. Interestingly, Ynez, despite scoring the highest rate amongst schools with similar demographics, was also the only Alhambra school to decrease its overall API score, dropping from a 9 in 2009 to an 8 in 2010.
Alhambra Superintendent Donna Perez explained the discrepancy in Ynez Elementary School’s API rankings. “Ynez is a school with many disadvantaged students, yet they still manage to score so well,” Perez said. “It’s hard to maintain those scores. The fact that they have a perfect similar school rank indicates to us that within schools of its nature it’s right there at the top.”
Five AUSD elementary schools improved their API scores — Emery Park, Garfield, Monterey Highlands, Park, and William Northrup. The average overall score was a little more than seven. Alhambra High School received the lowest similar school rank in the district — a three. Mark Keppel and San Gabriel High school did significantly better, receiving a nine and a seven respectively in their similar school ranks.
“The Alhambra High School rank is something we need to look at and be concerned about,” Perez said. Nonetheless, she added, she understands the challenges the high school is up against and the situation is different than for elementary schools. “It is more difficult for high schools to receive strong API rankings.”
The Alhambra Unified School District increased its base API score to an 816 — a number which measures how each school is performing in comparison to other public schools, with scores ranging from a low of 200 to a high of 1000. Over the past five years, Alhambra has improved ever year, increasing that score by 6 percent. And for the past two years it has been greater than the target API score of 800 set by the state Department of Education.
While Alhambra is above the state’s target score, the district lags behind nearby communities. South Pasadena, San Marino, and Arcadia Unified all have base API measurements of 900 or more. These neighboring schools also received many 10s for individual API schools — grades Alhambra failed to receive. Even San Gabriel Unified is ranked higher than Alhambra. Despite two schools receiving low rankings of two and three, the district still managed to receive a higher base API rank of 830. And Rosemead, which lacks a high school in its district, had a score of 840. Los Angeles’ score was 709.
Perez said the scores are actually very good, when you take into consideration Alhambra's demographics. “We are ranking over an 800 API yet we have a student body population that does not come from a high income background and many students are English-language learners,” Perez said. “When you compare us to school districts with similar demographics – such as Los Angeles or Montebello – we are doing extremely well.”