At Glendale High, the school regressed by one point on the state exams, and it missed four of 22 criteria on the federal benchmark. Missing one criterion in two consecutive years qualifies a campus for Program Improvement, according to the No Child Left Behind Act.
"They are important because they do offer an annual progress report … on how well our schools are performing," state schools Supt. Jack O'Connell said in a teleconference.
The Program Improvement designation frees up more resources and professional development for the challenged campuses. If the schools do not climb out of the designation after three consecutive years, restructuring begins and employees can be dismissed.
Across the state, fewer elementary and middle schools made their federal targets in 2010 than in 2009, O'Connell said, partly attributing the slide to the 11% increase in expectations.
The federal Adequate Yearly Progress is a zero-sum game. School districts and their campuses either hit the proficiency target, or they fail. Beginning in 2007, the system has escalating standards that increase by 11% annually until 2014, when 100% of students are expected to be proficient in English and math.
The escalating target is so rigid that it's going to push more California schools into Program Improvement, said Mary La Masa, who oversees assessments and evaluations for Glendale Unified.
"They're performing at higher levels and improving; however, they are not being credited for improving because they haven't met that 11% growth rate," she said.
Toll Middle School represents the dichotomy best, Supt. Dick Sheehan said. It improved 12 points on the state Academic Performance Index to 814, but because its English language learners and socioeconomically disadvantaged students didn't reach their targets, the school was put in Program Improvement.
On the separate state accountability exams, Glendale scores rose by 13 points last year to 842 on the Academic Performance Index, a state measure that reflects district performance and helps determine property values. Scores range from 200 to 1,000, and state leaders have pegged 800 as the goal.
"[Toll has] achieved the state benchmark, but because they don't meet a specific subgroup, they're targeted as Program Improvement," Sheehan said. "Our staffs are … working to ensure all kids are successful."