California's schools showed only modest improvement this year, the first in which they were required to make the same gains for all groups of students, such as poor and minority children, according to figures released Friday by the state Department of Education.
One-third of the state's schools also failed to meet their achievement targets under the federal No Child Left Behind Law, making some eligible for escalating sanctions.
That was about the same as last year.
The number of school districts and other oversight agencies that failed to meet their federal benchmarks climbed to nearly half, up from about a third last year.
The number of students scoring proficient or above grade level under the state's own school rating system, the Academic Performance Index, grew modestly or little.
The median API score, or ranking on a scale from 200 to 1,000, rose from 745 last year to 751.
The goal is for all schools to score at least 800.
Schools are given annual performance targets to meet that goal, based mostly on student achievement on math and English tests.
This year, schools were required to make the same improvements for all subgroups of students, such as blacks, English learners and children with learning disabilities, with a final goal of 800.
The state Board of Education adopted the tougher standard last year based on the recommendation of Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.
He wants to close the achievement gap, which he has called the most
pressing problem facing the state's schools.
O'Connell acknowledged the confusion of having two separate school rating systems, one for the state and one for federal compliance.
He said he has talked to federal officials about how to change that, but nothing is likely to happen before the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress is expected to take up next year.
The federal law includes escalating sanctions for schools that do not improve quickly enough, ranging from extra tutors for failing students to closing schools.
It aims to have all children at grade level by 2013. State officials say California is unlikely to meet that goal.
California's API system, however, is based mostly on incentives and includes only a voluntary system of sanctions in return for additional state funding.