After two years ranked near the bottom of San Francisco’s schools, Buena Vista Elementary surged past a low-scoring pack to become one of the better performers in the Mission District, based on test score data released in detail on Tuesday.

On a scale that reaches 1,000, Buena Vista improved 93 points to finish at 738, the second largest jump in the city after Malcolm X Elementary School in Hunters Point.

The increase still leaves Buena Vista, a Spanish/English immersion school located on 25th Street near Potrero Avenue, below the state’s target score of 800 for all schools, and in the bottom quarter of schools citywide.

“It’s hard not to be excited,” said Larry Alegre, the principal at Buena Vista. “But taking a middle path is much better. When the scores were very low, we didn’t get too depressed.”

“The hardest part about testing is the stigma it places on schools if they don’t do well,” he said. “It doesn’t take other factors into account.”

Alegre attributed much of the school’s scoring swing to fewer incoming students from outside the country who know little to no English.

“Just think about it. If you went to Mexico for two years, would you be able to test at a fifth-grade level?” he offered.

“The results showed how well Buena Vista can do when we’re not pulled down by unrealistic expectations,” Alegre continued.

Marshall Elementary and Horace Mann Middle School also made significant gains this year, jumping 40 and 23 points respectively on the performance index to 746 and 623.

Despite a slight decrease, George Moscone Elementary remains the only school in the Mission to meet the state’s target.

“I fully blame the drop in test scores on the school district dropping my one support,” said Moscone Principal Susan Wiggen, referring to the loss of a full-time special education teacher.

“We don’t have the resources other schools do,” she continued, mentioning a lack of student advisors, parent liaison and reform facilitator. “We do not get these resources because we are high-performing.”

“Resources have been taken away from us, and we haven’t been doing well,” Alegre responded at Buena Vista, referring to cuts in years past.

Wiggen, like Alegre, said she believed there should be some way to hold schools accountable but that the current system “sets schools up for failure” by focusing so narrowly on test scores and not taking into account discrepancies between schools, like the number of students learning English.

Cesar Chavez Elementary School Principal Adalina Arámburo spoke of her school’s recent fluctuation after freefalling 139 points in 2007 before regaining close to half that over the past two years. The school improved 10 points on the performance index this year.

“We dropped quite a bit, and it was inexplicable,” she said. “We have a tighter curriculum now. But it’s not just about the tests.”

“We need to continue to evolve the evaluation process to assess all of the children,” Alegre said. “Children should have to make one year’s growth each year. But some in third-grade come into our school at a kindergarten level. It’s totally unrealistic.”

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Born in the central valley of Massachusetts and raised in Tidewater Virginia, Garrett attended public schools before graduating from the University of Virginia. Wandering and working in various national parks, tutoring kids on the playgrounds of Dublin, and teaching English to 3rd graders in China eventually led to some temporary confusion, and a re-settling as a community journalist.

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