Malibu High School loses distinguished school status


Corrected data shows the school’s special education students have not met Academic Performance Index targets, which is a factor in receiving the California Distinguished School Award.

By Nora Fleming / Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu High School lost its status as a California Distinguished School after a correction in data revealed the state test scores of the schools’ special education students were lagging behind. The school, along with Lincoln Middle School that also had its award rescinded, received the Distinguished School Award in April and notified the public this week upon learning of the data correction.

The honor, which was given to 254 secondary schools this year, recognizes the top California schools, which are selected based on standardized testing scores, overall school programs and efforts aimed at closing the achievement gap in subgroups of traditionally disadvantaged students.

Schools are given an Academic Performance Index number each year from 200 (low) to 1,000 (high), after comparing their standardized test scores and other school facets to 100 demographically and socioeconomically similar schools in the state. The overall score goal for each school is 800, but the state assigns each school growth targets, or numbers of API points to improve, for both the overall school score and the scores for demographic subgroups.

To be considered for the distinguished school award, a school must meet overall school API score goals, in addition to the growth goals set for each significant (100 more students) subgroup, which includes Hispanics, blacks, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, English language learners and students with disabilities.

The last time Malibu High received distinguished school status was in 2003.

This past fall, Malibu High School and Lincoln Middle School were notified they could apply for the award, but also that there was a problem with the scoring and accounting for their special needs students, which was in the process of being corrected, said Malibu High School Principal Mark Kelly. Yet they were still given the green light to proceed with the application.

Throughout the application process, Malibu High was lauded for its school program, Kelly said, but the rerelease of data in February found further mistakes and the application was sent back to the state again.

Before the official corrections were made, both schools were notified they won the distinguished schools awards, and were given letters from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and commemorative plaques.

Several weeks later, when the accurate data was finally released, it showed the students with disabilities subgroup at both schools had not met their API growth targets, with Malibu’s disabled students increasing their API score by only one point, 11 short of their goal, and Lincoln’s group API score falling 24 points. The awards were then revoked.

Maureen Bradford, head of testing in the district, said she was disappointed that the early release of the correct data did not prevent the situation that occurred, but still believed both schools were of high caliber. “As a district we support having high academic standards for all students,” Bradford said.

“But it is sometimes difficult for students to really show what they know, given the nature of these standardized assessments.”

At Malibu High School, the only subgroup with more than 100 students is students with disabilities, but many of the awardees had to meet the state growth targets not only for special needs students, but for significant numbers of other disadvantaged groups.

Because the other awarded schools met their targets, members of the special education community have questioned whether the scores for special needs students at both local schools has any relation to the overall issues with the district’s special education program, which has been targeted for a reformation the past few years.

“It is possible for special education kids to meet growth targets and see improvement on standardized testing,” said Jill Greenberg, director of the Malibu Learning Center, which works to remediate learning disabled and special needs students. “If other schools are meeting those targets for special education students, we have to look at why those schools are meeting them and why we are not.”

Some special education parents say the district has had a problem with properly identifying the district’s special education students for years and believe this is due to the district’s desire to have the highest API scores possible and not count special needs students’ scores in the mix.

In the case of this year’s award glitch, school district personnel disagreed.

“This is not about what was presented. It is about a technical issue and we are no less distinguished today than we were a month ago,” Principal Kelly said. “I think our parents have a pretty realistic perspective on that and recognize we can provide a really strong program of academics that will really help kids.”