Rating The High Schools

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I recall to this day, all too clearly, my first exam a poli-sci midterm at college. A graduate of Loretto, an all-girls parochial school in Sacramento since 1955, I was one of a class of 60 and accustomed to classrooms of about seven to 17 girls. Yet there I was, in Wheeler Hall at the University of California, Berkeley, one of about 700. Picking up the exam and a blue book on the way in, I took a seat near the aisle and, holding my breath, flipped it over. Twelve term identifications, choose six; three essay questions, choose two.

A Cheever-style test!

Charles “Red ” Cheever taught (and still teaches) religion at Loretto, but his courses were more often on world religions, philosophy and social justice. For one final, we hermeneutically analyzed The Beatles album Abbey Road. (My friends who attended stuffy Catholic schools back East believe, to this day, that I am making this up. While Beatles-album analysis of any kind may sound hippy-dippy to you, tell me, do you know what hermeneutics is? I do.) Thing is, I wasn’t taking Cheever’s courses as college prep; that’s what all the AP history, honors biology and that horrid, horrid pre-calculus was for. I was taking his courses because they were interesting and fun; because Mr. Cheever was a talented teacher whose love of the subject matter was contagious.

It paid off. In his classes, we dissected the Bible both testaments which gave me a strong base for my English lit study at Cal. We read The Odyssey and The Iliad (another English lit bonus), learned about the situation in El Salvador and my defense of Judas in one class honed rhetoric skills that later made for a great Rhetoric 1B paper. And the Cheever tests proved to have practical benefits. Most of my poli-sci classmates had never seen a test like that in high school. Some didn’t even bother reading the instructions, tried to identify all 12 terms and write all three essays, and ran out of time. Unlike the others, I had seen this test before (in format, if not material) and familiarity was my friend: I aced it. The exam turned out to be worth 50 percent of my grade (the other half was the final). There was no credit for homework, no points for class participation, no subjective benefit of the doubt because you were the type of student all the teachers “loved. ”

In college, it was all about numbers, baby. Your grade on a midterm, if you were lucky, and/or a final at the end. Which is what students who leave high school for college quickly discover and, based on my interviews of area high school grads, are more than a little angry about. Most of the kids interviewed for this story did not feel they were well-prepared for life after high school particularly life at a four-year college or university.

College prep, experts agree, is the No. 1 goal of most area high schools. Sarah Grondin, director of schools and programs for the San Juan Unified School District, chair of the High School Reform Committee and past principal of San Juan High School, says the toughest job teachers of teenagers face is getting their students to realize that the choices they make in school today have huge relevance for their futures. “It’s hard getting the message across to kids that without some post-secondary education, they will be limited in what they will be able to do, ” Grondin says. “We try to get the message across: ÔHow are you going to support yourself on minimum wage, let alone support a family?’ ”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, post-secondary education is “vital ” to getting a good job. Full-time workers with a high school diploma earn an average of $585 a week, while those with a college degree earn nearly twice as much ($1,029). Men with advanced degrees make $2,887 per week or more; women make about half that ($1,997 a week) or more. Personally, professionally, psychologically, physically, the acquisition of a college degree, more than anything else, can determine success in all these areas, experts insist.

The college degree is what the high school degree used to be, says Grondin, but emphatically adds that career exploration is as important to the high school experience as course requirements be they for GED completion or UC admission. “It’s important for kids who are not traditional rote learners to have options, ” she says. “A student who loves animals may discover that, while she doesn’t have the grades or the inclination to spend that much time in school, she could become a very qualified vet tech. ”

Grondin believes that all the high schools in the San Juan school district do a good job of preparing students for post-secondary life. She even points out that the district’s lower-ranking high schools like San Juan and Encina have sent disadvantaged students to some of the top schools in the nation, including MIT and Stanford. “It’s important for everyone involved teachers, parents and especially the students to realize that students who have the drive and want to do the work can attend any school and go on to do quite well in college. ”

Which should serve as some comfort for parents who must send their children to neighborhood schools with discouragingly low Academic Performance Index (API) scores. Those scores, released every March, measure how students at each school in each district score on reading and math proficiency tests. And with public schools that score 10 on the API, like Davis Senior, Rio Americano, Oak Ridge, Union Mine and El Camino Fundamental, why would an area parent spend between $6,000 and $15,000 annually to send a child to a private school? Is the college prep there really that much better? Is the extra attention worth that much more money?

Administrators at the area’s pricey private schools argue it depends on the child some thrive in smaller programs that cater to a student who is more creative or needs more specialization, more challenge. “Students who come here want to be here, ” says Liz Beaven, director of the Waldorf School in Fair Oaks. “They are asking for more and want to be more engaged in their learning process. ”

“We had a student transfer here from Davis Senior High School who couldn’t get over the fact that she could leave her backpack out anywhere on campus, or her locker unlocked, and not worry about something being stolen, ” adds Patricia Fels, an educator at Sacramento’s Country Day School. “Some students really appreciate that about a learning environment; they know their teachers, they know their classmates that well. ” It’s an environment that allows young people to focus on learning at a critical point in their lives: as they prepare for college, says Fels. And as far as the cost is concerned, most private-school representatives insist it’s simply more a matter of choice than sacrifice. “I’m not convinced you can purchase an education, ” says Beaven. “It’s an investment. We can’t and will not quantify it and justify it. Waldorf is a choice and a significant investment of money; only the students can tell you whether or not it is worth it. ”

Fels adds that she has recommended parents with very bright children consider Country Day, only to be told by the parents, “We couldn’t possibly afford it. ”

Know Your Terms
>> The Academic Performance Index score (or API) is based on STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting), CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam) and CAPA (California Alternative Performance Assessment) results. Schools strive for a score of at least 800; scores range from 200 to 1,000. More information about the API report can be found at cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/documents/infoguide05b.pdf.

>> API Base scores range from 10 to 1; a higher number indicates better performance on the standardized state tests.

>> SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) averages and means in this story are those reported by private schools and the API reports, including public school data, which are Verbal and Math averages only.

>> The American College Test composite score is the average of the four ACT subject tests: for example, an SAT perfect total of 1,600 (800 Math, 800 Verbal) would be comparable to an ACT composite of 36. ACT is an alternative to the SAT required by many U.S. colleges and universities for admission purposes.

* The Academic Performance Index Report, released by the California Department of Education, in addition to measuring how students perform on reading and math proficiency exams, addresses other factors in its evaluation of each school: the number of students taking and completing courses required for CSU and UC admissions, the ethnic diversity of a campus and how well disadvantaged students score on API tests, graduation rates and so forth. It is downloadable and borderline incomprehensible. Only a few would say the report is irrelevant, although it does raise some puzzling questions: Why did Mira Loma High School, which has a consistently lower API score than Davis Senior High, rank higher on the Newsweek Top 1,000 high schools in the nation (released every year)? And how is it that a school with a statewide API rank of 8 (10 is tops) a score based on reading and math performance produces students who score below 400 on Math and Verbal SATs? (Esparto High School students taking the 2004 SAT averaged 398 Verbal and 396 Math, according to the district report.)

SUPER SCHOOLS

Our six Super Schools rank “10 ” statewide based on API scores. API Base scores range from 10 to 1; a higher number indicates better performance on the standardized state tests. They rank above state and national averages on SAT scores (Verbal and Math, respectively). The California SAT averages for 2004 were 496 Verbal, 519 Math. The national SAT averages for 2004 were 508 Verbal, 518 Math. For SAT scores, the most recent data available is shown.

>> Davis Senior High School
Davis Joint Unified School District
Enrollment: 1,831


API Base score 2005: 845, Statewide rank: 10
SAT averages 2004: 578 Verbal, 610 Math
30 percent of graduates are accepted into UC
Highlights:
16 Advanced Placement courses are available, including music theory, studio art and human geography; honors classes are offered in physics, German, and American and English literatures.
Accelerated courses: Students often enroll in courses at Sacramento City College, Woodland Community College and UC Davis while still attending Davis Senior High.
Extensive ROP program features classes in architecture and engineering drafting, food service, certified nursing assistant and health careers, and environmental science.
14 National Merit Scholar semi finalists, 32 commended students in 2004-05
Davis Senior High School Career Center features an extensive college scholarship bulletin, which lists national, regional and local scholarships.

>> Folsom High School
Folsom Cordova Union School District
Enrollment: 2,670


API Base score 2005: 827, Statewide rank: 10
SAT averages 2004: 529 Verbal, 551 Math
Graduation rate 2003: 98.2 percent
>> Granite Bay High School
Roseville Joint Union School District
Enrollment: 2,071
API Base score 2005: 814, Statewide rank: 10
SAT averages 2002-2003: 533 Verbal, 552 Math
ACT composite: 25.1
Highlights:
15 Advanced Placement courses offered, including one in studio art Honors courses offered in English, chemistry, physics, pre-calculus

>> Oak Ridge High School
El Dorado Union School District
Enrollment: 1,900


API Base score 2005: 826, Statewide rank: 10
SAT average scores 2004: 542 Verbal, 572 Math
Graduation rate: 98.2 percent
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 76.1

>> Ponderosa High School
El Dorado Union School District
Enrollment: 2,006


API Base score 2005: 820, Statewide rank: 10
SAT averages 2004: 551 Verbal, 574 Math
Graduation rate: 94.5 percent
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 62.5

>> DaVinci High School
Davis Joint Unified School District
Enrollment: 215


API Base score 2005: 816, Statewide rank: 10
Alternative Magnet School
Opened in August 2004 as a smaller, alternative high school to Davis Senior High.

HIGH SCHOOLS

API Base scores range from 10 to 1; a higher number indicates better performance on the standardized state tests. For SAT scores, the most recent data available is shown.

El Camino Fundamental High School
San Juan Unified School District
Enrollment: 1,677


API Base score 2005: 785, Statewide rank: 9
SAT averages 2004: 534 Verbal, 538 Math
Graduation rate 2003: 94.6 percent
83 percent pursue post-secondary education opportunities
Highlights:
KYDS 91.5 radio station broadcasts 24 hours a day, an excellent preparation for careers in radio and TV broadcasting. Eagle Polytechnic Institute: a three-year, four-course cross-discipline program designed to prepare students for a career in technology or college coursework in engineering

Franklin High School
Elk Grove Unified School District
Enrollment: 2,621


Elk Grove Unified’s sixth comprehensive high school opened in August 2002. Its 2004 API score of 743 (up from 656 in 2003) was the highest of the six schools in the Elk Grove Unified School District reported for that year.
API Base score 2005: 778, Statewide rank: 9
Standardized Test Scores: Not available
Highlight: Franklin High School implemented the first Take Your Parents/Guardians to School Day in the district; the school’s commitment to parental involvement sets it apart from other schools in the area.

Rio Americano High School
San Juan Unified School District
Enrollment: 1,833


API Base score 2005: 777, Statewide rank: 9
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 74.2
SAT averages 2004: 559 Verbal, 580 Math
Highlights:
Special Education program for disabled students, student assistance programs for all students Volunteers in College and Career Information conduct mock interviews, career counseling and guidance into “post-secondary adult life ”
11 Advanced Placement courses, 16 honors courses
Accelerated program concentrating in political science
Award-winning student activities include Moot Court, Mock Trial, Academic Decathlon, speech and debate, and Science Olympiad, jazz band, Reader’s Theater and other student productions/publications, which have won national recognition

Rocklin High School
Rocklin Unified School District
Enrollment: 2,306


API Base score 2005: 797, Statewide rank: 9
SAT averages 2004: 519 Verbal, 538 Math
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 58.6

Union Mine High School
El Dorado Union School District
Enrollment: 1,502


Opened August 1999
API Base score 2005: 802, Statewide rank: 9
SAT averages 2004: 546 Verbal, 546 Math
Graduation rate: 97 percent
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 64.8 Highlights: D-BACK Hour held every Wednesday: students sign up for activity which “meets their current need(s), ” including study hall, tutorials, fly-fishing, yoga, lab dissections and swing classes

Bella Vista High School
San Juan Unified School District
Enrollment: 1,945


API Base score 2005: 763, Statewide rank: 8
SAT averages 2004: 570 Verbal, 572 Math
Graduation rate: 94.6 percent
For 13 years in a row, BV’s Academic Decathlon Team has won the county championship. Advanced Placement courses offered in English, Spanish, French, Calculus A/B and B/C, U.S. History and Biology College credit for Advanced Computer Applications and Engineering (Sacramento State program)

El Dorado High School
El Dorado Union School District
Enrollment: 1,285


API Base score 2005: 754, Statewide rank: 8
SAT averages 2004: 523 Verbal, 533 Math
Graduation rate: 96.4 percent
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 65.9

Del Campo High School
San Juan Unified School District
Enrollment: 1,832


API Base score 2005: 753, Statewide rank: 8
SAT averages 2004: 528 Verbal, 532 Math
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 60.9

Del Oro High School
Placer Union High School District
Enrollment 2003Ð2004: 1,592


API Base score 2005: 747, Statewide rank: 8
SAT averages 2004: 530 Verbal, 537 Math
Graduation rate 2003: 98.7 percent
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and or/CSU admission: 59.4

Elk Grove High School
Elk Grove Unified School District
Enrollment: 2,650


API Base score 2005: 761, Statewide rank: 8
SAT averages 2003: 495 Verbal, 519 Math
Graduation rate: 96 percent
Highlight: Mock Trial team county finalist

Mira Loma High School
San Juan Unified School District
Enrollment: 1,800


API Base score 2005: 750, Statewide rank: 8
SAT averages 2004: 591 Verbal, 617 Math
Ratio of students per academic counselor: 610.7
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 65
Highlights:
Science Bowl and Science Olympiad champions, advancing to national finals four years in a row Students awarded summer scholarships to MIT by The Research Science Institute All-State Honor Band, four years in a row Superior score for choral program at Golden Empire Music Festival 175 students annually participate in U.S. Geographical Survey

Oakmont High School
Roseville Joint Union School District
Enrollment: 1,500


API Base score 2005: 755, Statewide rank: 8
SAT averages 2004: 525 Verbal, 549 Math
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 46.6

Sheldon High School
Elk Grove Unified School District
Enrollment: 3,367


API Base score 2005: 745, Statewide rank: 8
SAT averages 2003: 490 Verbal, 505 Math

Woodcreek High School
Roseville Joint Union School District
Enrollment: 2,000


API Base score 2005: 755, Statewide rank: 8
SAT averages 2004: 495 Verbal, 517 Math
Graduation rate 2003: 99.3 percent
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 62.3

Center High School
Center Unified School District
Enrollment: 1,687


API Base score 2005: 749, Statewide rank: 8
SAT averages 2004: 490 Verbal, 513 Math
Graduation rate 2003: 93.1 percent
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 59.4

Esparto High School
Esparto Unified School District
Enrollment: 265


API Base score 2005: 757, Statewide rank 8
SAT averages 2003: 398 Verbal, 396 Math
Highlight: Award-winning agriculture studies department

Placer High School
Roseville Joint Union School District
Enrollment: 1,600


API Base score 2005: 736, Statewide rank: 7
SAT averages 2004: 526 Verbal, 536 Math
Graduation rate: 95.2 percent
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 63.2

Casa Robles Fundamental High School
San Juan Unified School District
Enrollment: 1,802


API Base score 2005: 730, Statewide rank: 7
SAT averages 2004: 505 Verbal, 522 Math
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 62
Highlights:
Award-winning yearbook: eight Gold Crown Awards, one Silver Crown Award, five Pacemaker Awards
Award-winning Future Farmers of America program
Block Schedule, allowing students to complete 32 classes in four years
Senior project and community service graduation requirement
Computer/technology program required for freshmen
CRCN (Casa Robles Cable Network TV broadcasting studio)

Laguna Creek High School
Elk Grove Unified School District
Enrollment: 2,156


API Base score 2005: 721, Statewide rank: 7
SAT averages 2003: 488 Verbal, 499 Math
Highlights:
New American High School 2001
National Blue Ribbon School 2001
California Counseling Leadership Award 2004

Galt High School
Galt Joint Union School District
Enrollment: 1,970


API Base score 2005: 729, Statewide rank: 7
SAT averages 2004: 485 Verbal, 465 Math
Graduation rate: 92.7 percent
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 63.2

C.K. McClatchy High School
Sacramento City Unified School District
Enrollment: 2,472


API Base score 2005: 696, Statewide rank: 6
SAT averages 2004: 543 Verbal, 544 Math
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required for UC and/or CSU admission: 47.5
Highlights:
The Humanities and International Studies “magnet school within a school ” provides outstanding university preparation for college-bound students

Air Force Junior ROTC program for students interested in air dynamics, geography, science and history Four career-themed tracks: Arts and Media, Technology and Engineering, Health and Human Services, Business Renowned concert choir (performed at Carnegie Hall, NYC in 2004)

John F. Kennedy High School
Sacramento City Unified School District
Enrollment: 2,541


API Base score 2005: 704, Statewide rank: 6
SAT averages 2004: 491 Verbal, 543 Math
Percentage of students enrolled in courses required or UC and/or CSU admission: 70.6
Highlights:
Six learning communities to provide personalized education: “schools within schools ” PACE Academy: Founded by Gary Hart in 2001, four-year college prep history and English program concentrating in Californian and American perspectives, featuring a summer program for incoming freshmen, field trips, guest speakers Criminal Justice “magnet ” program for students interested in government and law enforcement, in conjunction with the Sacramento Police Department

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