Burbank Unified improved its overall score on the all-important state index that measures student achievement, according to data released Wednesday.

The district’s overall score on the Academic Performance Index improved by 13 points to 846 — putting it well above the state’s benchmark figure of 800.

“It’s fantastic,” said Sharon Cuseo, director of instruction and accountability for Burbank schools. “Even as a district, we were able to make a good gain.”

Scores on the Academic Performance Index are based on standardized tests, with a high score of 1,000 points. No school in Burbank surpassed the 900 mark, although a few were just shy of that, according to the data from the California Department of Education.

Thomas Jefferson Elementary topped all Burbank schools with a score of 894 — a 21-point gain over last year.

Principal Melissa Kistler said the school pulled small groups of fourth- and fifth-grade students to work on language arts and math needs. Parents wrote letters of encouragement to students at testing time.

“It was a team effort, vertically and horizontally, to make this happen,” Kistler said, adding, “my teachers worked tirelessly last year.”

R.L. Stevenson Elementary tailed Jefferson with 892 — down three points from last year.

The highest scoring secondary schools were John Muir Middle School, with 888 points, and Burbank High, with 831.

Joaquin Miller Elementary made the greatest gain of all Burbank schools with a 24-point improvement to score 873.

Principal Judy Hession said students benefited from separating into small classes to focus on language arts. Some classes were as small as six to 10 students; others had 20 students compared to the regular 30 to 32.

“This is them showing all the progress they made,” Hession said of the students.

John Muir Middle School followed with a 23-point gain to achieve a score of 888.

Cuseo said the greater gains were likely a result of schools focusing on their strategies for relaying instruction and engaging the students.

“At Muir, they really focused on identifying every single student that needed help. I think that really paid off for them,” Cuseo said.

By contrast, Providencia Elementary sustained the greatest dip with 11 points from 870 to 859. Ralph Emerson Elementary followed with a 7-point drop from 882 to 875.

Statewide, data showed that 53% of schools scored above the 800 target and students’ overall scores increased by 10 points this year.

Burbank schools that were newly identified for “Program Improvement” for failing to achieve challenging federal targets despite overall growth include John Muir Middle School, Providencia Elementary and Washington Elementary. The designation activates added layers of oversight in an effort to boost test scores.

“In federal accountability, you only get credibility for students who make it all the way to proficiency,” Cuseo said. “Many of these subgroups still showed good growth. They just didn’t make the target.”

Those schools join McKinley Elementary, Disney Elementary and Luther Burbank Middle School already labeled for program improvement.

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