Making the Grade

Making the Grade

Gaining admission to thousands of colleges and universities just took several crucial steps in the right direction. A groundbreaking report, “Turning the Tide,” was released in January by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and suggests several critical changes to the admissions process that many educators hope will result in a more balanced, well-rounded student body, as well as more parity in the selection process. 

Traditionally, potential schools have reinforced to students the importance of high SAT and ACT scores, along with charitable work and coveted recommendations from important members of the community. Administrators are now learning that what these high SAT and ACT scores mostly reveal is family background and income levels — issues which have little to do with the quality of the students who present themselves as candidates. 

With such a narrow focus, the Harvard study concludes, schools may miss prime opportunities to extend admission to students with other valuable qualities and experiences, and overlook students whose grades may not meet the same threshold as some students, simply due to familial obligations, or a packed work and study schedule. 

The research advises that schools pay less attention to the amount of charitable work each student participates in and instead focus on the authenticity of the student’s commitment to individual causes and their civic-responsibility. This can be accomplished through a more thoughtful review of student essays and personal recommendations and letters of reference. 

Gone too, are the days when schools were awed by student resumes consisting of an overwhelming amount of Advanced Placement (AP) classes and constant activity. Many high schools in lower income areas do not offer the same amount of AP classes, nor at the same level, and the Harvard Study suggests that this may unfairly eliminate viable candidates for admission. 

Frank Bruni, author of “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania,” tells CBS TV’s “This Morning” that “You have schools saying they’re not going to be as impressed by a huge load of AP courses. … What they’re trying to do is get kids away from a sort of incredibly dutiful script following during high school and encourage more genuine passions in them and figure out a way to judge them by the way they commit to those passions.”

The Harvard Study goes on to conclude that a well-tested student is not one who is necessarily well prepared. Major universities across the country have seen a significant spike in admittance to mental health centers on and off campus as many students struggle with the transition to life away from home and the pressure to maintain their GPA. Mental-health professionals have discovered a definitive correlation between the pressures of academic achievement and mental health. The Harvard study addresses the role universities play in exacerbating or compounding the stress in what is already a stressful time for students, and outlined specific recommendations to the admissions process itself to lesson their anxiety. Somewhere along the line, schools and parents have sent a message to students that if they’re unsuccessful in meeting a rigid set of educational metrics and milestones, they’ve failed, and many feel overwhelming concern that their failure will potentially follow them through adulthood. 

The Harvard study seeks to reverse this presumption. While hardly a mandate for the college admissions process, it has been lauded and commended by so many administrators from top universities that it can now be considered a blueprint for institutes of higher-learning when it comes to accepting and turning-out a more qualified, less fretful graduate into the workforce. In adopting this forward-thinking approach, many universities across the country have already begun to make SAT and ACT scores optional. As per the recommendations from the report, admission counselors are also casting a more critical eye on charitable work and personal recommendations from high-powered mentors and teachers alike. Rather than immediate, drastic changes to admissions, look for these changes to materialize over the next five years or so as schools across the country begin to understand the benefits of a more contemporary approach to admissions.

The sweeping new changes to the SAT tests implemented in March are yet another welcome modification to the admissions process. In addition to returning to a top score of 1,600, rather than the ill-advised and unpopular 2,400, students will no longer be penalized for incorrect answers, and the number of possible answers to multiple-choice questions has changed from five to four, thus affording test-takers better odds of a correct response. Additionally, students will be allotted more time to take the test, which now contains 16 fewer questions than previous versions. These are just a few of the important changes to the SAT system, so be sure to check collegeboard.org for more info. 

Financial aid will continue to be a lifeline to higher learning, but increased competition may make getting in to your favorite spot trickier than you’d hoped. Take advantage of the many websites geared toward helping students get their share of the financial aid pie, most notably among them studentaid.ed.gov, and above all, file all necessary aid forms in a timely manner. Many scholarships and grants are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Sites such as Cappex (cappex.com), formerly meritaid.com, continue to be excellent resources for finding a multitude of available scholarships. But be advised that while competition for these scholarships has increased, their availability, particularly those that are merit-based, has seen a significant decrease. 

Tuition has also seen a sharp increase, and experts predict the cost will only climb higher. Currently, the average yearly cost of a four-year in-state public college is $9,410, and $23,890 for out-of-state public colleges, while private colleges start at around $32,410 per year.

As of now, schools typically require the following coursework for entrance into most four-year colleges and universities: four years of English, three years of math (specifically geometry and algebra I and II), three years of a foreign language (unless fluency is verified), three years of science (including at least one laboratory science course) and some history and social sciences. 

To be sure, this is merely a guideline, since many prestigious colleges and universities prefer to see students take four years of math. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC, nacacnet.org), “Students who take math in each year of high school are far more successful in college than students taking only three years.” NACAC goes on to caution students to “never ‘skip’ a year of math in high school because you will lose your momentum. If you do not take math in your senior year, you will find that the math classes required in college will be very difficult!”

Many universities have become much more welcoming to students with alternative-education backgrounds, with some college applications already providing a box for home-schooled students to check. 

Experts at petersons.com advise home-schooled and schooled-online students to include a portfolio of special projects and writing samples from English and history curriculums along with their completed application to distinguish themselves from other students — those schooled both traditionally and non-traditionally. 

With all the changes on the horizon, it’s important for parents and students alike to investigate all the many new and exciting options available, as well as those changes not necessarily in their favor. 

With a little research and persistence, most students are sure to discover that finding the right college is like finding a great pair of jeans — there’s a perfect fit for every type. 

Making the Grade

Making the Grade
Liza Frias insists she’s not the new sheriff in town, although some restaurant owners may describe her that way.   
Since July, Frias has been manager of the Environmental Health Services Division of the Pasadena Public Health Department. She and her staff of four environmental health specialists are charged with preventing the spread of disease through biological, physical or chemical hazards. They inspect the sanitation and safety conditions of hotels, motels, public pools and tattoo and massage parlors; monitor the city for infestations of vermin, mosquitoes and other pests; and respond to citizens’ complaints about the storage and disposal of trash and sewage. 
But their most high-profile responsibility is making sure Pasadena’s food establishments are using safe and clean procedures to prepare and serve edible items in compliance with state and city laws. That’s no small task in a city with almost 1,000 food establishments — including about 675 restaurants, as well as grocery stores and trucks, food trucks, coffee bars, bars and pubs, liquor stores, Rose Bowl concessions and other facilities. 
In inspecting these establishments, Frias says her goal is to “ensure that anybody who visits the city, who lives here … can feel safe. They know that somebody is regulating and they know when they visit our city they are eating at places that provide safe food.”
“I’m not the new sheriff in town,” she adds. “I’m here to help not only our residents but our stakeholders, the restaurateurs, to make sure that we work together to help them follow the regulations. It’s not about following the law, it’s about doing the right thing.”
 
Change coming
Frias wants to work cooperatively with local businesses to, as she says, “make sure that our restaurant owners, our food market industry, our consumers all have a voice” in the regulatory process. She explains that a large part of her job is educating consumers, businesspeople and others about how things work. “We will always take the educational approach first,” she says. “However, if we need to take enforcement, we will.”  
The division’s enforcement powers became the subject of controversy when the Health Department closed Burger Continental, a long-established and popular restaurant on South Lake Avenue, on Aug. 29. According to the Pasadena Star-News, the department cited the restaurant for numerous violations, including harboring cockroaches, having unsafe food temperatures and contaminated food preparation surfaces, improperly cleaning and sanitizing equipment, and failing to have employees properly wash their hands. 
Frias and her staff worked closely with the restaurant’s owners and employees, and Burger Continental reopened for business two weeks later.
But the closure inspired an angry column written by Star-News Editor Frank Girardot. Published on Sept. 4, Girardot’s column took the city Health Department to task for not performing a sufficient number of inspections, as well as a lack of transparency in its restaurant rating system.  
In that system, inspectors rate food establishments on 100 points applied across about 80 possible violations, ultimately deriving a numerical score which tells potential customers whether the restaurant is — or is not — safe and sanitary. Girardot complained that the current system is hard for consumers to understand and should be replaced with one similar to the one used by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. That department inspects food establishments throughout the county, except in the cities of Pasadena, Long Beach and Vernon, and assigns facilities letter grades of either “A,” “B” or “C.”  
Girardot argued the letter-grade system is easier to decipher than the numerical system used by Pasadena’s Health Department. He also criticized the city department’s method of posting restaurant ratings on its Web site for being similarly incomprehensible.  
At the time the column was published, the Health Department had already begun addressing the problems Girardot cited, according to department Director Dr. Eric Walsh. As part of its efforts at improving the inspection process, Walsh says his agency received a grant of more than $300,000 from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which will enable employees to conduct inspections using tablet computers.  Another step toward improvement was hiring Frias to replace William Kimura, who died earlier this year.
A tough sell
During the 2013-14 fiscal year, ending June 30, Frias plans to begin several initiatives aimed at changing how the Environmental Health Services Division performs its job. One goal, she said, is to implement a new software program that provides inspectors with the ability to determine which facilities need to be inspected, how many facilities there are and gain a true picture of the city’s legal responsibilities.
As part of this program, staff members who conduct inspections of food establishments would be able to enter ratings-related data into tablets. Using tablets, Frias says, will not only speed up inspections, but also give inspectors the ability to show restaurant operators how their facility has been rated and better educate owners about the inspection process.  Owners, she adds, “will be able to sign the inspection reports right at the time of inspection.”
Frias also plans to make restaurant ratings more transparent and comprehensible to consumers. The department’s Web site is currently being updated to make it easier for the public to access full inspection reports, which will be written in what she described as a “user-friendly format.” 
The placards that list the department’s restaurant ratings, which restaurateurs are required to publicly display, will include quick response (QR) codes, so consumers can use their smartphones to view the restaurant’s inspection report. Frias has also asked the Yelp Web site, which contains pages with information and consumers’ remarks about restaurants, to include the most recent inspection scores for each restaurant, a practice which Yelp has already adopted for San Francisco eateries. 
In addition, Frias is considering changes in the frequency of inspections. Currently, food establishments are inspected either once, twice, or three times a year. But because of limited staffing levels, some facilities that should have been inspected three times have only been inspected once or twice.
“My goal is to establish an inspection frequency that is based on risk,” she says. “Those establishments that do more food preparation, in advance of service, would get inspected three times a year. Fast-food establishments that are lower-risk, do fast food cooking and order-type foods, those get inspected twice a year. Establishments that are just dealing with prepackaged food or not potentially hazardous food only get inspected once. That way we can actually use our staffing more appropriately to make sure we’re identifying and assessing any potential risk.”
While these initiatives are relatively benign, restaurant owners might be more upset about two other proposed changes. Frias says she wants to work with owners and consumers to determine a new system for rating restaurants and for displaying these ratings on the placards. This system could use letter grades, like those employed by Los Angeles County public health officials, or color codes, or a range of other techniques. 
“There are so many ways of providing consumers information in terms of helping them make an informed decision about restaurants,” Frias explains.
In addition, the Environmental Health Services Division is conducting an audit to determine the number of inspectors it needs to perform its work. Frias thinks she may need two or three additional staffers, but she is awaiting the results of the audit before making any decisions. Pasadena’s general fund does not provide money to cover the costs of food inspections. Instead, these expenses are borne by food establishments, which pay two annual fees to the Health Department: an environmental health plan check and inspection fee, and a food sanitation inspection and permit fee. The audit will determine inspectors’ combined hourly rates “so we can make sure that we are recovering the fees to actually do the inspections,” she says.
Based on the audit, Frias added, “there may be higher or lower [fees] for some people. But we’ll definitely work with all of our stakeholders to let them know and keep them in the loop as we go through this evaluation.” 
A proposed fee hike could prove to be a tough sell. Paul Little, president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, strongly maintains that increased inspection fees are about the last thing restaurant owners want right now.
“This is not a good time for anybody to be raising fees in government, with the confidence level in government so low,” Little says. The Health Department, he adds, needs to do a cost-of-service study to show that their costs are up. “They are going to have a hard time making that case,” says the former Pasadena City Council member.
False read
Little is less critical of proposed changes in the restaurant ratings system. He said the current system is somewhat confusing. “[The Health Department] could do a better job of reporting what the results are,” Little says. “It’s hard to decipher now.” 
But while acknowledging letter grades might allow for greater transparency, Little also questions “the whole notion that at one point [a restaurant] can get that grade and live with it for that period. It creates a false impression of safety, or gives you the wrong idea about a place that’s perfectly safe.”
Said Robin Salzar, owner of Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ in East Pasadena, “At the end of the day, a letter grade or number gives a false sense of security. The score could be 98 today and 89 tomorrow. It’s just a snapshot.” The current inspection process, he adds, “is a very comprehensive approach” in which inspectors focus on several critical areas, such as heat, sanitation and temperature, to determine a restaurant’s ratings. 
Salzar seemed less concerned than some restaurateurs about possible fee hikes. He said some of these fees pay for the city to have its own Health Department, which costs more than having Los Angeles County assume those functions. However, he argued that the higher costs are justified because the city having its own department enables restaurateurs to work more closely and cooperatively with environmental health staffers. Salazar has operated his restaurant for the past 32 years. And, he says, “In that time I’ve known every sanitarian, every manager. When you have a relationship, and can deal with employees on a name-basis, you have a better working relationship. It’s easier to work together.”
Frias says she will work hard to maintain her division’s positive relationships with the city’s businesspeople. But, “There definitely will be some changes,” she says about her proposed initiatives. “I want to be methodical in the changes. I want to make sure I work with those people and those businesses that are going to be impacted by the changes.”
A good fit
Frias, according to her boss, is probably the most qualified person to be appointed manager of the city’s Environmental Health Services Division. “Liza [pronounced Lisa] fixed the county [inspection] system,” says Walsh. “She’s the best fit for her job.” 
After earning her degree in environmental and occupational health from California State University, Northridge, Frias worked for the Environmental Health Division of LA County’s Public Health Department. She assumed various responsibilities during her 13 years there, including conducting inspections, helping to develop the county’s restaurant inspection grading system, training environmental healt1h specialists and overseeing the county’s food and milk program. 
While with the county, she was, by her own description, “one of the primary authors” of the California Retail Food Code, the law regulating the safety of the state’s food establishments.  
In 2004, Frias became the director of safety for Albertson grocery stores. In this position she made sure that stores in seven states complied with state food codes and the FDA’s Model Code, which provides guidance to states, cities and other entities charged with food regulation. During her nine years with the company, she says, “I made sure all of the products being sold in our stores were safe, and that all of our employees that were handling the food were handling it safely.”
Frias is also actively involved in two food safety organizations. One is the Conference for Food Protection, a national group in which representatives of federal government agencies, such as the FDA, the US Department of Agriculture and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meet with regulators, food industry officials and consumers to establish standards for food safety. The other is the California Retail Food Safety Coalition, which brings together representatives from all of the state’s county and city health departments and the food industry to discuss needed changes in state food safety law.
“One of the things I truly believe in is collaboration,” says Frias. “And I think that my coming to the city of Pasadena brings a unique experience because I can bring my private industry experience into government and really understand how we partner and collaborate together because we do have a mutual goal.
“And our mutual goal is to work together to make sure no one gets sick,” she says. “We want to make sure that when people come to our pools, our pools are safe. When they come to visit or stay at hotels and motels they won’t have concerns with respect to bedbugs or cockroaches or sanitation issues. So it is truly of mutual benefit for everybody that we work together.” 

Making the grade

Making the grade

Should two of three incumbent candidates lose re-election on March 5, minority officeholders for the first time could hold a majority of votes on the recently reconstituted Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education.

Seven minority candidates — four Latinos and three African Americans — are running for four vacant seats, three of which are occupied by white incumbents seeking re-election. 

The emergence of Latino and African-American candidates is a result of the district’s going from at-large elections, in which each voter was able to cast ballots for all of the candidates, to district-only or neighborhood elections in seven districts.

The change, approved by a special task force hoping to stave off potential lawsuits that might be filed against the district under provisions of the California Voting Rights Act, was later approved in June by 54 percent of voters in Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre, the three communities that make up the district. The 2001 Voting Rights Act prohibits “racially polarized” elections that impair the election of minorities. 

The only two incumbents not seeking re-election are Board members Ed Honowitz and Ramon Miramontes, currently the board’s only Latino member. Latinos make up about 61 percent of the district’s student population. The board’s only black member is Renatta Cooper, who is not up for re-election

African-American candidates include: Hermond Dean Cooper (no relation to Renatta Cooper), running against incumbent Kim Kenne for the new District 1 seat; and Deirdre Duncan and Tyron Hampton Jr., who are among four candidates running for the board’s empty District 3 seat.

Latino candidates include Guillermo Arce and Ruben Hueso, who are also running for the District 3 seat; Stella Murga, who is looking to unseat incumbent Elizabeth Pomeroy, who is white, in District 5; and Luis Carlos Ayala, who is hoping to replace two-term incumbent Scott Phelps, also white, in District 7.

Under the new district voting system, Miramontes and Honowitz would have been forced to face board colleagues Kenne and Pomeroy, respectively, if they had chosen to run again.

District 1, which includes Eliot Middle School and Altadena, Jackson, Franklin and Loma Alta elementary schools, is the only race without a Latino candidate.

Despite being elected in 2011, Kenne, 50, is being forced to run two years before the end of her initial four-year term due to the changes in district voting procedures. 

“I think [the change to districts] is a good change. There are a lot of new faces getting involved, that we wouldn’t have seen. Whether the new people will win is a different question,” Kenne said. “There is certainly more access to candidates. People are walking the districts now, and I am not sure they did that before.” 

Kenne has so far raised $10,000, half from a loan to herself and a $5,000 donation from Richard Webster, owner of event listing Web site goldstar.com. Kenne said she is focused on fiscal transparency, parent engagement and accountability. 

Hermond Cooper, who filed papers with the City Clerk’s Office declaring he will raise and spend less than $1,000 during the campaign, is a former school district employee who has filed two unsuccessful discrimination lawsuits against the district. He did not return phone calls.

In District 3 — a predominately Latino area in Northwest Pasadena and the only district without an incumbent — Arce, a Los Angeles County Human Services Department administrator, is squaring off against 46-year-old Hueso, a district volunteer, Duncan, a foster parent, and Hampton, a contractor. 

The district includes Cleveland Middle, John Muir High, Washington Elementary and Washington Accelerated schools. 

Hueso, brother of former San Diego Assemblyman Ben Hueso, is the top fundraiser in the race, declaring $6,175, including a $5,000 campaign contribution from former state Assemblymen Fabian Nuñez, also of San Diego. His opponents have so far not raised any declarable campaign funds.

Hueso is endorsed by Assemblyman Chris Holden, United Teachers of Pasadena, Honowitz, former Board member Jackie Jacobs and Democrats of the Pasadena Foothills. Hueso, who has a daughter enrolled in a local school and another daughter who recently graduated, did not return a number of calls seeking comment.

The 50-year-old Arce, who has three children attending schools in the district (two of whom have special needs) filed a lawsuit against the district for allegedly failing to meet special education requirements for one of his children. The suit was settled in 2012. 

“I have dealt with the district a lot,” Arce said. “My children have been victimized by them. They are condescending and only listen when you have an attorney. I am the only candidate that will be working for the parents. My campaign is so grassroots I can smell the dirt.”

Hampton, 29, graduated from John Muir High School in 2001. He was born and raised in Pasadena and is the only candidate to go through the local school system, attending Cleveland Elementary and Washington Middle schools. Hampton has not raised more than $1,000 for his campaign.

In District 5, which contains parts of eastern and southern Pasadena and includes McKinley School, Rose City High, Marshall Fundamental and Hamilton and Jefferson elementary schools, incumbent Pomeroy is running for a second term against Murga, executive director of the Pasadena Youth Center.

“I don’t think there is much transparency or accountability in the district on a variety of levels, from the budget to hires,” the 62-year-old Murga told the Weekly. “The board needs to be more proactive and ask more questions and not just wait for staff reports. The board does not function as a team right now. Instead of focusing on student achievement, they have been focusing on their differences.”

Murga is endorsed by United Teachers of Pasadena, the Pasadena Foothills Association of Realtors, local attorney Dale Gronemeier, Pasadena City College Board of Trustee member Berlinda Brown, PUSD Board President Renatta Cooper and former PUSD Board member Susan Kane. Murga has raised about $5,000 for her campaign. 

Pomeroy, a former English teacher at Pasadena City College who has raised about $7,000, including $5,000 from the California Teamsters, is endorsed by her former board colleague, Miramontes.

Pomeroy is also endorsed by Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), Democratic state Sen. Carol Liu, Pasadena Councilwoman Margaret McAustin, Pasadena City College Trustee Jeanette Mann, Teamster Local 911, ACT Pasadena, current Board member Tom Selinske and former Board members Bob Harrison, Marge Wyatt and Alexander “Mike” Babcock. 

“After four years of working intensively, I believe I see what the issues and obstacles are and I also see very promising initiatives that are under way in our district,” Pomeroy, 74, told the Weekly.

In District 7, the 49-year-old incumbent Phelps, who has raised $3,500, is a former John Muir High School math teacher who is hoping to hold off a challenge from Ayala, an immigration attorney.

Phelps has two young children attending school in the district. 

The 49-year-old Ayala, who has raised $3,000 ($1,000 of which he lent to himself) has two daughters in local private schools. He also did not return calls for comment.

The West Pasadena district contains Blair International Baccalaureate School and San Rafael, Roosevelt and Linda Vista elementary schools.

“The biggest challenge is stabilizing and growing enrollment,” Phelps told the Weekly. “I believe the dual-language immersion program can do that by attracting new families.”

Phelps made national headlines in 2002 when he wrote and distributed a note to his fellow teachers that the majority of the students who were failing and disruptive were black. Phelps was suspended by then Superintendent Percy Clark. Phelps later said he was trying to get the district to stop holding teachers solely responsible for student performance. 

Phelps has raised $3,500, including two donations equaling $2,500 from Miramontes, with whom he often sides on issues facing the board.

Miramontes told the Weekly he was excited to see more people of color running, but said local liberals could have made that occur well before this election.

“We have a well-entrenched liberal Democrat crew that could have marshaled their money to put more people of color on the board at any time,” Miramontes told the Weekly. “It’s good they are running, but I am focused on results. Let’s see what happens.” n

Making the grade

Making the grade

Pasadena is doing a better of job of protecting its residents from secondhand smoke, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

Pasadena, South Pasadena, Glendale, Compton and Baldwin Park all scored “A” grades in the “State of the Tobacco Control 2012” report, released last Thursday by the American Lung Association.

According to the report, those five cities were the best in Southern California at protecting people from tobacco smoke.
Pasadena, which received a “B” last year, has since passed a tough anti-tobacco ordinance. The ordinance goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2013 and bans smoking in apartment buildings and common areas like patios, swimming pools, laundry rooms and garages in multiunit properties. It also requires landlords to include language spelling out the new smoking restrictions in leases and contracts.

“In 2011, cities in Los Angeles County, and especially Baldwin Park, Compton and Pasadena, continued to make tremendous strides in protecting residents from secondhand smoke exposure and keeping tobacco products out of the hands of kids,” American Lung Association spokesperson Sue Padernacht said in a prepared statement.

This year, “elected officials and all California voters can do even more to raise the grades and save lives by passing the California Cancer Research Act,” Padernacht stated.

The California Cancer Research Act ballot measure would increase the state’s tobacco tax by $1 per pack of cigarettes and dedicate more money to tobacco-related medical treatment and research.

While last week’s news was good for Pasadena, it was bad for the state as a whole. Overall, California received an “F”. The Golden State currently ranks 33rd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for its 87 cents per pack tax, far below the national average of $1.46.

According to Pasadena Tobacco Control Program Coordinator Statice Wilmore, 12.2 percent (16,454 people) of residents smoke tobacco.

Making the grade

Making the grade
Blair International Baccalaureate School has been honored for demonstrating educational excellence and showing progress in narrowing the educational achievement gap.
 
On April 14, the school became the first secondary school in the Pasadena Unified School District to be named a California Distinguished School. 
 
Blair’s test scores in English language arts rose by 15 percent over the last five years, and 7 percent this year. Math scores also rose by 8 percent this year, and 12 percent since 2006. 
 
The school serves 410 middle school students and 758 high school students.
 
“This is a great honor for all of the staff, students, and parents who have worked, attended, or supported Blair over the past several years,” Blair Principal Trudell Skinner said in a prepared statement. “Together with recent honors for Advanced Placement Scholars, dramatic gains in our Academic Performance Index score, and increases in the number of IB Diploma candidates, this award is a testament that hard work, consistency, and team work delivers results.”
 
In order to be considered for Distinguished School honors, schools had to meet eligibility criteria including designated federal and state accountability measures based on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), and the Academic Performance Index (API) requirements.
 
The 97 schools that won the award this year promised to share with other schools policy changes that resulted in measurable successes and mentor teachers and administrators who want to implement those policies.
 
“The award demonstrates the upward momentum of student achievement at our district’s secondary schools, and our community’s commitment to prepare all students for success in college and careers, and to provide a rigorous and personalized learning experience for all children,” Superintendent Edwin Diaz said in a statement Winners of the 2011 California Distinguished Schools Award were scheduled be honored at an awards ceremony on May 20 at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, but the ceremony was canceled due to budget cuts.

Making the grade

Making the grade
Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) results released Monday by the California Department of Education showed continued improvement by Pasadena Unified School District students in math and English language arts. 
 
Advanced and proficient scores in English increased by 4 percent this year, raising the district’s five-year increase to 12 percent, according to a statement released by the district. 
 
Secondary students — grades 6 though 12 — posted the biggest gain in English as ninth-grade students posted an 8 percent increase, followed by a 7 percent gain among eighth-graders. Math scores increased by 2 percent among sixth through 12th graders
“This is strong and clear evidence that our emphasis on middle and high school students is producing results,” Superintendent Edwin Diaz said in a prepared statement. “The data is promising and demonstrates that district initiatives to improve instruction in grades 6 through 12 have begun to be reflected in rising test scores.”
 
California’s STAR program reports performance in five levels: advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic. Only advanced and proficient levels are considered as meeting state grade-level standards. 
 
“The growth in achievement is evident among every subgroup of students,” state Superintendent Jack O’Connell said in a prepared statement. O’Connell appeared at Cleveland Elementary School Monday, the day the test results were made public.
 
“However,” O’Connell stated, “we must continue to pay close attention to the achievement gap that shows students of color and poverty are trailing behind their peers. My administration has focused on closing the achievement gap, and I am pleased to see that among Latino students the gap has narrowed since last year.” However, he said, “I remain concerned that we are not seeing similar narrowing trends among African Americans.”

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