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View From Lodi, CA: What The Academic Performance Growth Report Means
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October 31, 2003, 04:00 AM
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The Academic Performance Index Growth Report, released last week, contained  encouraging news. When compared to scores from last year, API results throughout California were consistently higher.

And at the Lodi Unified School District, even though a computer glitch made the scores of 26 schools unavailable, Superintendent Bill Huyett was pleased with the positive outcome.

Huyett, in his interview with Lodi News-Sentinel reporter Alejandro Lazo for the story titled "Local schools making the grade on API" said:

"We`re pleased with the continued improvement of our API scores. All of our elementary schools were all the way up. By in large, we were pleased with the elementary (school) results."

Although much is made of API scores, I wonder how many parents really understand what it is all means. I`m a district teacher and follow education issues. My teacher friends and I often talk about the API. Yet, I`m still not exactly clear.

As a public service to parents and with thanks to www.greatschools.net, I`ll try to clarify the API for those who would like it boiled down. Space limits my comments to the most important aspects of the API; to get the complete breakdown, visit the above website.

To start at the beginning, the API is designed in a way so that the schools can identify the lowest-scoring students and work with them to raise their individual scores. Schools scores range from 200-1,000. The goal for all schools is 800. [Peter Brimelow, in education mode, comments: no mention of per pupil cost i.e. productivity of course. Can`t get this point across!]

With that in mind, let`s look at what the rest of the API means:

  • Point number one is the hardest. Don`t think of the API as a test—even though children are tested— but rather as a measurement system for schools that evolved from California`s 1999 Public Schools Accountability Act. Every year, the Department of Education calculates the Base API for each school that becomes the baseline for that school`s academic performance. The state also sets an annual target for growth. Then, each fall, the state announces the Growth API for each school.

    Change is a constant with the API. In 2002 Base API was calculated by using each school`s test results from a combination of the Stanford 9 (a national test taken by students in grades 2 through 11 each spring), California Standards Tests (state tests designed to see how students are learning state standards) and the California High School Exit Examination. In 2003, the Stanford 9 will be replaced by California`s own norm-referenced test, the California Achievement Test, 6th edition (CAT/6).


  • The API does not measure school quality. It does measure academic performance. Cautions www.Greatschools.net:

    "Be careful about jumping to conclusions based on a school`s API alone. Before making any overall judgments about a school`s quality, be sure to look at its API improvement as well as other key factors, including teacher experience, parent involvement and special programs."


  • API results are school by school only. Individual student APIs or districts APIs don`t exist.

  • API is intended to help all students. The goal is to find out how well schools serve students across all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Hence, the creation of "statistically significant subgroups" and "numerically disadvantaged students"—students who qualify for subsidized lunch or who don`t have a parent with a high-school degree.

  • The API stakes are high. As you have seen from the coverage in the Lodi News-Sentinel, schools and principals are under intense pressure to improve their APIs. The October 25/26th weekend edition of the News-Sentinel published three stories on API scores.

    While this year`s API results indicate that mounting public pressure encourages schools to improve classroom instruction, some fear that better results come at the cost of eliminating diversified curricular programs. And many claim that "teaching the test" is inevitable.

As long as test scores keep improving, all is well. But it`s worth mentioning that the API –which measures output—is a one-way street. In the last analysis, accountability remains firmly with the teacher. And that is not quite fair.

How about coming up with something that measures input? According to Liz Guillen of the  Sacramento-based Public Advocates, Inc before you can accurately gauge how good a job schools are doing, parents must also know:

  • The number of fully and properly credentialed teachers employed at the school;

  • The availability of adequate and appropriate instructional materials;

  • The physical condition and maintenance of school facilities, and the extent to which pupil population exceeds the capacity of a facility;

  • The availability of counseling and academic advising; and

  • The availability and adequacy of high-quality postsecondary preparatory, vocational education, and honors courses for pupils in secondary educational grades.

But, notes Guillen, California Senate Bill 495 which would have revamped the school accountability law by adding an Opportunities for Teaching and Learning (OTL) Index to the Public School Accountability Program, was vetoed by Governor Gray Davis on October 13th.

Said State Senator Vasconcellos (D-San Jose), the bill`s author,

"Once again, Davis has chosen to keep the public from knowing the lack of learning conditions that exist for these students, while continuing to test them and expect them to perform the same as students who have decent books, teachers, and buildings.  We can only hope that Governor Schwarzenegger will work to improve the conditions of the neediest children where Governor Davis has not."

[Joenote to VDARE.COM readers: Of course, what Governor Schwarzenegger could do that would most benefit the needy children in California in their quest for a decent education is to halt illegal immigration. Not only is the California K-12 school system overwhelmed with 1.5 million non-English speakers, the state has a staggering 9.2 million children under 18. More than half of them are Latino or Asian. Is it possible to suggest that we take care of those already here before embarking on a commitment to provide for more?]

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.