Honor student Angela Morrow, left, works with math blocks as Tim Martin and Dominick Pouero look on at Redlands East Valley High School. Although math scores are high in most grades at Redlands East Valley, some students say they wish the school focused more on reading skills.

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Redlands Schools Receive High Marks

San Bernardino County Sun

District Officials say college prep emphasis, community support, help schools thrive

From test scores to college preparation, Redlands schools are doing a good job, according to the Audit of Educational Effectiveness.

With few exceptions, students are generally performing well, and the community is satisfied with the district's work.

Student test rankings on the California Achievement Test 5 for the 1996-97 school year were above average in math and reading for nearly all grade levels.

The national average for school districts with similar demographics was at the 45th percentile, the audit said. But Redlands' scores in math far surpassed the average, with rankings ranging from the 54th percentile to the 65th percentile.


Students receiving free or reduced-price meals:
39 percent
District residents on public assistance:
17.5 percent
Students with limited English proficiency:
11 percent
Students retained in kindergarten:
2.4 percent
Median per capita income:
Average years of schooling for adults living in the district:
13.2 years
Teaching staff having a master's degree or higher:
39 percent
Per-pupil spending:
Teaching staff with temporary certificates:
6 percent

Excluding second grade, reading scores also were higher than average, ranging from the 47th percentile to the 57th percentile.

Anita LaVelle, the district's assistant superintendent for educational services, pointed to strong community support and quality school staff as prime reasons for the district's high level of achievement.

"I have never seen a community come together in so many ways for its children," LaVelle said. "When students realize they have the support of their community, they feel a connection to their school."

She cited numerous school-community projects and high participation. A
recent career day at Redlands East Valley High School, for example, attracted
99 professionals from various fields to talk to students.

LaVelle and other district officials blamed low reading scores in second
grade, and poor performance at four specific schools on the relatively high
percentage of limited-English proficient students. More than one out of every
10 district students falls in that category.

Audit researchers, however, do not take limited-English proficiency into
account when finding school districts of presumably comparable demographics.
They say it is not a major factor in school performance.

The audit praised the advanced placement programs in the high schools,
which enroll 16.8 percent of juniors and seniors. This easily surpasses the
national average of 10 percent and exceeds the audit's recommended level of 12

In addition, 12.2 percent of juniors and seniors took the AP exam, more
than four times the national average. And 72 percent of those who took the test
passed; 12 percentage points higher than the average.

Harriett Clark, AP department chairwoman at Redlands High School, said that
students and their parents are growing more aware of the need to prepare for
college. Her campus offers AP courses in 12 subjects.

"We're really looking at the critical thinking skills, which are basically
your analyzing and argument skills," Clark said. "Everything a student will
write in college falls under the umbrella of analysis."

The district's effective college preparation also was demonstrated by scores
on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and American College Test, which surpassed
the national average and the audit's recommended scores.

The cumulative drop-out rate for grades nine through 12 also was low. At
8.9 percent, it was less than half the national average of 18 percent and lower
than the audit's recommended 15.2 percent.

District staff attribute the low rate to the nine alternative programs that
help keep students in school. From semi-intensive programs within traditional
high schools that help students catch up on credits to independent study and
school-age parent programs, the district provides numerous opportunities for
students who don't fit one particular mold.

"Alternative programs provide the flexibility students need to work around some of
their problems. It just gives them another mode to complete their education,"
said Carol Ruhm, acting principal of Orangewood High School, the district's altemative
campus. "They all don't fit in the round holes. Sometimes, they need something

While the audit offered a complimentary overview of the district, the audit's polling of
administrators, teachers and parents showed that they also think highly of the
district's performance.

The three groups gave generally high marks to the district for leadership, emphasis on
learnings school climate, monitoring student progress and maintaining high expectations.

Smiley School PTA president Mary Ambriz agreed that the district has been doing a good
job. She said district staff is willing to listen to parent concerns.

"There's a statewide trend now for parents to get more involved in schools," said Ambriz,
whose three children attend Redlands campuses. "But an emphasis on parent involvement
is nothing new here."

Study Helpful for Educators and Students

  • A commentary by Redlands Unified School District Superintendent Robert Hodges

Some months ago, during a meeting hosted by the San Bernardino County Sun, Publisher Mark Adkins introduced SchoolMatch Inc. to a group of superintendents from selected areas of the county. Adkins discussed the key role public education systems play in improving the economic, social and cultural opportunities in a region.

In a move to support local schools in their improvement efforts, the Sun asked eight districts to participate in the SchoolMatch Audit of Educational Effecfiveness.

Over a period of several weeks, staff collected data, administered surveys and completed forms. This information was used to compare the academic perfomance of our students to students in similar school districts.

The process was culminated by a visiting team of educators, who spent three days in the district to validate the information generated by the data. The reviewers had extensive backgrounds and experiences in public education, administration and academic research. They reviewed policies, visited schools and met with parents, teachers, students and administrators. The final report was delivered to the school district in January.

After a general review of the findings, we were pleased to see that our students did quite well scoring at the effectiveness level in most of the key areas. The visiting team issued several commendations and provided recommendations for consideration.

District staff and SchoolMatch personnel enjoyed a positive working relationship throughout the process while maintaining a focus on improving the educational program for each and every student in our district.

An important footnote when reviewing the SchoolMatch findings relative to the comparison format is SchoolMatch Inc.'s lack of data, experience and information specific to California. The visiting team, although extremely capable and accomplished in its own right, had little direct experience with or knowledge of public education in California.

The current uniqueness of Califomia's student population, funding model, legislative reforms, student academic achievement data and initiative governance structure sets this state apart from all others.

Unfortunately, a database to compare our district and schools with like districts and schools in Califorma is not yet available in the SchoolMatch system. Therefore, the question of a true apples-to-apples comparison must be kept in mind when reviewing the findings.

For example, our district has a minority-majority student population, with more than 2,000 children who are limited- or non-English speaking. There are more than 30 different primary languages represented in our 20 schools. These demographics are somewhat different from those of the identified cohort schools in other states.

It is important to acknowledge, however, that the "Effective Schools and School Practices" literature on which this audit is based is considered to be some of the most reliable research in the field of education. The visiting team's recommendations were important in validating several of our areas of concern. Most specifically was the suggestion to create policies and practices that contribute to databased decision-making. The audit team was able to offer strategies and references to support district efforts in this area.

The San Bernardino County Sun is to be commended for its willingness to become a working partner with communities and school districts in the all-important quest to improve educational opportunities for the children in the Inland Empire.

The SchooIMatch Audit of Educational Effectiveness has given parents, teachers, students, administrators, community members and the Board of Education valuable information and additional insight into a process that must be evaluated, adjusted and improved every single day. Our children deserve nothing less.

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