Brown signs bill moving API away from standardized tests

September 27, 2012

Senate Bill 1458, which will shift California’s chief measure of a high school’s performance, from a near exclusive reliance on state test scores to a broader gauge of student accomplishment and preparation for college and the world of work, is now law.

After Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill Wednesday, its sponsor, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, predicted in a press release that the bill “will prove to be one of the most significant education reform bills of the decade.”

Starting in 2016, test results of the California Standards Tests will comprise no more than 60 percent of a high school’s Academic Performance Index, or API, the three-digit score that, next to a school’s mascot, has become its identity. Less prescriptive than last year’s version of the bill, which Brown vetoed with a caustic message, SB 1458 doesn’t dictate what the other elements comprising the 40 percent (or more) will be; the bill leaves that up to the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to determine. But it does makes clear that those measures should reflect success in preparing students for higher education and the workplace. Steinberg has said these elements might include high school and middle school graduation and dropout rates, or factors such as the proportion of students who pass Advanced Placement exams, are eligible for a four-year state university (complete the A-G course requirements), graduate without need for college remediation in English and math, or have completed a Partnership Academy program in a career pathway and qualified for college credit in that area.

State tests would comprise at least 60 percent* of an API score for middle and elementary schools under the bill. However, science and history, which currently are given little weight – science is tested only in fifth and eight grades – would have more emphasis. State Supt. Tom Torlakson would report to the Legislature next year on how that could be done.

SB 1458 reflected widespread frustration that the heavy weight given to multiple-choice reading and math exams was narrowing the focus on what was taught, encouraged weeks of test prep, and distorted priorities, with science, the arts, and vocational and career tech programs given short shrift. That’s why SB 1458 had strong support in the business community, with regional workforce organizations and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association among those behind it.

“This is a big step in improving the expectations we have for schools and the outcomes we want for students,” said Christopher Cabaldon, executive director of the Linked Learning Alliance, in a press release. The Alliance works to expand and integrate job internships and real-world career tech programs in high schools.

The bill also:

SB 1458 coincides with a period of great change. The state is transitioning to the Common Core standards in math and English language arts, with new standardized tests that are two years away. The state will also adopt new science standards, with assessments that have yet to be written. In November, the California Department of Education will report to the Legislature which standardized tests should be eliminated and which should be elevated in importance, such as science. Those recommendations could affect the composition of the API under Steinberg’s bill. With so much in flux, SB 1458 gives Torlakson and the state Board four years to institute changes to the API.

* an early version  of the post had an incorrect figure. See comment below.

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