March 30, 2007

What Every California Parent Should Know About the API

By Daffodil Altan and Carolyn Goossen
New America Media

Editor’s Note: The Academic Performance Index is one of the most important indicators for California parents of how their children are doing compared with other schools and with the state average. Bruce Fuller, professor of education at U.C. Berkeley, answers your questions about how to make sense of your school’s results and what rights you have as a parent.

What is the API?

The Academic Performance Index is a simple formula that converts all the standardized test student scores at your child’s school into a school-wide average. Your school’s score will be between 200-1000. California has set its goal for schools at 800. The average score for the entire state in 2006 was 721.

When did the state start doing the API and what is its purpose?

The API was adopted in 1999 as a way to measure how schools are doing from year to year. All schools are expected to raise their scores by a minimum of five points each year.

Why should I pay attention to this week’s release of API scores?

Because it is one indicator of whether kids at your child’s school are learning more, or at least learning skills that can be easily gauged on a standardized test.

What does my school’s API score say about how well my child is doing?

Nothing, because the API score is an average of how well all the kids at your child’s school did on California standardized tests. It tells you how well your school is doing.

How can I find out my child’s individual test scores?

Your child should receive a form with the results of the California standards tests he/she has taken. If the school doesn’t distribute a form that has your child’s individual test scores, go see the principal. Don’t be shy. Demand it! And check to see where your child is weak, or needs more help, in particular reading or math skills.

What are “growth targets”, and should I pay attention to them? What does “rank” mean?

Growth targets indicate the amount of improvement in children’s test scores your school principal is aiming for. Two rankings are important to study: pay particular attention how your school is doing relative to other California schools serving similar kids. An API percentile ranking of 3-9 means that your school’s kids are at about 30 on a 100-point scale (or the 30th percentile). But the 9 indicates how well your school is doing compared with other schools in neighborhoods similar to YOURS. A score of 9 indicates that the school is doing much better, 90 on a 100-point scale when you compare it to similar schools.

If my school has a high API score, does it mean it’s a good school? And if it has a low API score should I consider taking my child out?

Don’t worry about the API score for 2006 or ANY ONE year. What’s important is whether your school’s API score is climbing higher, or not. If there is no sign of growth, go meet with your school principal and ask why. If you are not satisfied with the answer, start to look for other schools. You have a legal right to transfer to another regular school, or magnet or charter school, located within your school district.

If my child’s school’s API score has gone up 5 points since last year, does that mean my child’s individual score has improved?

No, again the API scores takes the average of all kids’ scores.

Does it mean the school is improving or becoming a good school? If it’s gone down 5 points, should I be worried?

If the API score is falling, you should be worried. This may result from changes in which families are moving into or out of your community. It may not be the school’s fault. But if the API score falls a lot, or has been declining in recent years, start shopping for another school. Remember, you have a legal right to move your child to another school in your school district.

What do these scores tell me about my child’s teachers?

It’s most important to track your own child’s test scores. His or her scores will be placed in “percentile rankings”. If you child is scoring in the second percentile, that means that 8 out of 10 kids statewide are performing at a higher level than your child. Push your child’s teachers or school principal to explain every number on the results form that your child should bring home from school.

Do these rankings compare my kid to all California schools, even private schools?

Just public schools.

How does the API relate to the federal policy “No Child Left Behind”?

The API is an index calculated by educators in Sacramento. It has nothing to do with President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” federal policies, directed from Washington D.C.

What does it mean if my school’s score improved on the API, but it did not meet the AYP?

This is where politicians have made it very confusing. The AYP — Adequate Yearly Progress index — is like the API, except the AYP is set by a formula that’s largely written in Washington, D.C. It provides a growth target — but one that’s very sensitive to whether your school serves kids from poor or affluent families. It most often penalizes schools that serve many children from lower-income families, since it’s not very sensitive to growth in these schools. The state’s API index, set by Sacramento officials, is more sound that the federal AYP benchmark.

Will my kid’s individual scores be recorded on his academic record? Will high schools or colleges see his scores?

Yep, it goes in the “cumulative folder” although this doesn’t go to colleges or employers, normally.

I’ve read in the newspaper that the API hides “achievement gaps”. What does this mean?

These tests are sensitive to gains among students who perform at or below the average student statewide. The API is given as a score on a scale of 1-1000. California has set its goal at 800. This year’s statewide average, which includes all students of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, is 721. But if you look at “subgroup” scores, which break scores down based on ethnicity, disability, economic status and English proficiency, you will usually see big differences in the average. This year the statewide average for Asian students, for example, was 847, compared with an average of 656 for Latino students and 801 for Filipino students. These differences in the average are known as “achievement gaps.” If your child belongs to an ethnic or other subgroup, pay attention to that subgroup score when looking at your school’s results. Your school’s overall score may have gone up a few points, but your child’s ethnic or other subgroup score may not have gone up or it may be much below the school’s overall average. If you notice big discrepancies, you should talk to your teacher or principal.

My child is an English language learner. Is he tested for the API? If so, are his scores included?

Some schools will give alternative tests for children who know very little English. But President Bush’s AYP index includes all students, even those who lack English proficiency. If this applies to your child, it’s very important that you talk with the school principal and perhaps a bilingual teacher, to ensure that they explain your child’s test scores.

Where can I get a copy of my school’s score? Do I have the right to get my child’s score?

Yes, you have a legal right to obtain information from your school principal, or even from a teacher, about your school’s API score, how student subgroups did at your school (by ethnic or income group), and how your own child performed on the tests.

Does my child automatically get to see his score? Or do I have to ask for it?

The results form should be handed out or mailed to the parent. But you have the right to get it and to consult teachers or the principal about what the different skill scores mean.

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