Answering questions about the state's new school rating system

Mike McDonald

In recent days we have learned about a new way to report student,

school and district achievement to members of the educational, parent and

business communities served by the Burbank Board of Education. This

reporting system is called the Academic Performance Index and it is being

used statewide to rank all California public schools in relation to each

other and in relation to other schools with similar characteristics and

demographics.

What does the API have to do with my child's education?

The API is a part of an overall program to provide the public with

information about how well the schools are educating students. The

accountability will also give educators valuable information they can use

in designing training programs for teachers and modifying class work to

better address the academic needs of specific groups of students within a

school.

How will this affect me as a parent?

As a parent, you undoubtedly have an opinion about how well your

child's school is addressing the needs of its students. You may choose to

become more involved in your child's education or in the school based on

this information. Research shows that parent involvement has a positive

impact on student performance.

What is the API?

Simply put, the Academic Performance Index is a new method, initiated

by the state, to measure overall student performance at every California

public school. In January, every school receives a single number on a

scale of 200 to 1000, with 1000 being the highest possible score. The

state has set an API of 800 as the target all schools should strive to

meet. Schools that have reached the state target must maintain that

performance. Schools that fall short of the state target will be given a

target based on 5% of the difference between their current index and the

state goal of 800.

What measures are used to determine the API?

For the current year (1999-2000), the API is using the results of the

Stanford 9 Achievement Test administered each spring in our district and

in all California districts. In future years, the API will include other

criteria, such as scores obtained on the high school exit examination as

well as graduation and attendance rates.

What does the API measure?

In grades two to eight, the API measures performance in four content

areas: reading, mathematics, language arts and spelling. Each content

area counts as a particular percentage of the overall score: reading,

30%; mathematics, 40%; language arts, 15%; and spelling, 15%.

In grades nine to 11, the API measures performance in five content

areas that are weighted as follows: mathematics, 20%; reading, 20%;

language arts, 20%; history/social science, 20%; and science, 20%.

What is the incentive for schools to improve their API scores?

The state goal of 800 or higher on the Academic Performance Index was

selected to indicate the schools are producing students with a high level

of academic competency. Parents, legislators, educators and stakeholders

in the community will scrutinize the API each year in pursuit of a high

level of academic achievement for all students. Setting realistic but

challenging goals for growth and performance is powerful way of

encouraging improved performance. Schools that meet their growth targets

will be eligible for cash and nonmonetary awards from the state. Under

performing schools that fail to improve over a specified period, may

receive sanctions from the state.

Is the API a fair measurement tool?

Given the differences in student background and the resources

available to schools, not all schools and students start out the same. In

order to make comparisons that are equitable, the Academic Performance

Index is progressively weighted by quintiles. More points are given for

improvement by low-achieving students than for improvement by

high-achieving students. Using this method, variables such as student

background, school resources, and programs can be part of the comparison

of like schools.

Currently all English Language Learners are required to take the

Stanford 9T in English. These scores were factored into a school's 1999

API. Only scores for English Language Learners enrolled in the school

district for less than one year were deleted. It is anticipated that by

2001, the state will implement a new standardized test specifically

designed to test the knowledge and academic skills of English Language

Learners. It is expected that the results from this test will be factored

into future calculations on the API to give a more accurate picture of

school performance.

Where can I go for more information?

Neighborhood schools were given a full report of their performance on

Jan. 25. This information will be presented to interested school-related

groups, such as the PTA and parents and school site councils. A brochure

will be available at each school site explaining the API. The calculation

for each school in the district is available through your local school,

the Internet (the state Department of Education at www.cde.ca.gov/psaa)

or from the Burbank Unified School District Office of Student and Program

Evaluation at 558-5393.

* MIKE McDONALD is a member of the Burbank Board of Education. Reach

him at 558-5322.

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