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As part of a push to measure how well a school is educating its students based on more than just test scores, California for the first time is planning to factor graduation rates into the state’s main measure of a school’s academic achievement.

The state Department of Education is recommending that as early as next year the proportion of students who receive some form of a high school diploma should account for a fifth of a school’s Academic Performance Index. The API is a composite score, between 200 and 1,000, that is based on students’ scores on standardized tests. Schools at the low end of the scale risk state sanctions, putting campuses under pressure to perform.

But how to incorporate graduation rates into the API raised challenging questions that a committee overseeing implementation of the state’s school accountability system has been struggling with. At a meeting last month, the Public School Accountability Act Advisory Committee turned aside four options for determining the graduation rate’s piece of the API that a group of experts presented, and asked for the Education Department to explore a fifth option. In April, after regional hearings and once the Education Department has crunched some numbers, the Advisory Committee may have enough information to recommend a plan to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and the State Board of Education.

Screen Shot 2013-03-18 at 11.11.14 PMThe Advisory Committee is acting on the framework prescribed in Senate Bill 1458, legislation signed into law last year. Championed by Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, it mandates that test scores comprise no more than 60 percent of a high school’s API. The State Board will decide what will make up the 40 percent, but the State Department of Education is suggesting that it be split between graduation rates and other as-yet-to-be-determined measures of college and career readiness.

At its meeting, the Advisory Committee discussed how to incorporate a high school’s graduation statistics into API’s point scale. Whether or not they graduated and got some form of a diploma, each senior would get a score, and the average of the individual scores would become the school’s or district’s graduation rate component of the API.

Difficult considerations

To determine the scoring system, the Advisory Committee had to make a value judgment: How important, relative to other measures in the API, is the graduation rate?

All of the options before the Committee assumed that a student who didn’t graduate would get the minimum score of 200 points. But should each graduate be given the maximum score of 1,000 points? Doing so would show that the state considers getting a diploma very important, and it could serve as an incentive for a high school to boost the graduation rates. Consider: If each student who received a diploma got 1,000 points, a school with an 80 percent graduation rate would get an API score of 840 for its graduation rate piece of the API. Last year, the average API for high schools – really grades 9-11 since seniors don’t take state standardized tests – was only 752. The most recent four-year graduation rate in California, for the class of 2011, was 76.7 percent.

Suppose instead a student who attains a high school diploma were credited with a score of 875, which corresponds with proficiency on a state test, the California Standards Test, or CST. That same high school, with an 80 percent graduation rate, would get only a 740 score, brought down by 20 percent of students who didn’t get a diploma.

There are other considerations:

  • How many points should a student receive who doesn’t have the credits to graduate but passes the GED, the General Educational Development test?
  • What about a student with disabilities who manages to achieve a special education certificate of completion? These are given to students with disabilities who don’t qualify for a standard diploma but who have completed an alternative course of study or have met the goals of their Individualized Education Plan for high school.
  • Given the lower graduation rates of low-income students and English learners, should there be bonus points for high-needs students who graduate with a diploma, as a reward for schools’ efforts to get them across the finish line?
  • Should there also be more points for students who complete A-G, the course requirements for admission to the University of California and California State University systems?
  • And what should be done to encourage, not penalize, alternative schools that work with students at risk of dropping out or bring dropouts, some with 4th and 5th grade math and reading levels, back to the classroom? The attendance and transfer rates at many of those schools are often very low.

“There ought to be bonus points for re-engaged dropouts with career readiness certificates, bringing them to the level they are employable,” said Ernie Silva, an administrator with SIATech, a network of dropout recovery high schools, during the public comment period at the meeting. 

The Committee punted, for now, on the issue of scoring graduation rates for dropout recovery and other alternative or ASAM schools (Alternative Schools Accountability Model), as they’re called.

But members did otherwise settle on a preference for assigning API scores to graduation rates. As proposed by Stanford Graduate School of Education Professor Edward Haertel, who’s an Advisory Committee member as well as a member of a group offering technical advice, each student in a four-year cohort who graduated would get 1,000 points, and students who don’t graduate – currently about 24 percent of students – would get the minimum score, 200 points. It would essentially be a pass-fail. However, there would be exceptions:

  • Students who pass a GED but don’t get a diploma would receive 800 points. But once the state adopts what’s expected to be a much more rigorous GED, they too would get 1,000 points;
  • Students with disabilities who earned a certificate of completion also would receive 1,000 points;
  • Low-income students, students with disabilities and English learners who earn a diploma would get 50 bonus points for a score of 1,050. A student who falls in two categories (low-income, English learner) would get an API score of 1,100. Conceivably, a student who falls in all three categories would score 1,150 points;
  • There would be no extra credit for A-G completion; however, there likely will be credit given as part of the 20 percent of the API score based on college and career readiness. The Committee will take that up in coming months.

The  Education Department will do a detailed analysis of Haertel’s proposal to see how it would affect individual high schools’ API scores. Haertel estimated that, if graduation rates were to comprise 20 percent of the overall API score, as the Department of Education recommends, and were implemented next year, his model would raise the average high school’s base 2011 API score by about 10 points.

Steinberg’s SB 1458 is written to take effect in 2016. But the Department of Education wants the State Board to adopt at least the graduation rate component this summer so that it could take effect in 2014. The reason is that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is recommending the suspension of most high school subject standardized tests after this year, to give a breather for schools to prepare for the Common Core tests to begin in the spring of 2015. In that case, the API score in 2014 would be of limited value, based solely on the high school exit exam results for 10th grade and a life science test given in 10th grade. The new grad rate would provide a more meaningful measure. However, several members of the State Board of Education, at their meeting last week, questioned the wisdom of modifying the API next year, only to turn around in two years to substantially alter it again with the addition of career readiness measures and the switch from state standardized tests to the Common Core assessments. The Board was not asked to decide.

The Advisory Committee will take up the graduation rate issue again in April for possible State Board action in May or July.

 

 

 


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  1. Deborah 4 years ago4 years ago

    How truly meaningful is a “graduation rate” measure if students it includes have not achieved proficiency on the STAR testing, have not passed the CAHSEE and thus have not demonstrated grade-level competency in reading, writing and mathematics indicating the student has appropriately “graduated”? This is the status of CA’s students with disabilities (SWD) exempted from passing the CAHSEE, despite state law mandating such passage in order to graduate from CA’s high schools, i.e., they … Read More

    How truly meaningful is a “graduation rate” measure if students it includes have not achieved proficiency on the STAR testing, have not passed the CAHSEE and thus have not demonstrated grade-level competency in reading, writing and mathematics indicating the student has appropriately “graduated”? This is the status of CA’s students with disabilities (SWD) exempted from passing the CAHSEE, despite state law mandating such passage in order to graduate from CA’s high schools, i.e., they are graduated, in far too many instances, without having achieved such competency, often so a local education agency is no longer be accountable for funding further special education services.

    California’s 2011 CAHSEE results (the measure used for NCLB), corroborates the lack of progress by students with disabilities receiving special education: statewide only 39% of special education students passed the English-Language Arts (ELA) portion and only 40% of these students passed the Math portion of the CAHSEE. In comparison, 82% of “All Students” passed the ELA portion, while 83% of “All Students” passed the Math portion, reflecting a gap of 43% percent between students receiving special education and “All Students.” (Even English Learners, the next lowest performing group did better than students receiving special education, scoring 44% (ELA) and 56% (Math), respectively). Perhaps it is this continued poor performance of students with disabilities that is behind California’s removal of the CAHSEE as a measure of accountability for students with disabilities, despite California’s original intent in enacting the CAHSEE and its use as part of California’s accountability under NCLB? Perhaps it is also why California’s recent request for a waiving of NCLB wholly failed to mention SWD.

    Despite this documented poor performance, California’s APR FFY 2010 (submitted April 2012 to U.S. DOE) states “In school year 2009–10, approximately seventy-four percent (74.4%) of students with disabilities graduated with a high school diploma.” The APR further states “The data show that there was a significant increase in the graduation rate for students with disabilities from 64.8 percent in 2008–09 to 74.4 percent in 2009–10. This 74.4 percent graduation rate meets the fixed growth target (67.06%) and the variable growth target (66.98%). The CDE continues to support schools and LEAs with ongoing technical assistance in a variety of areas that support increased graduation rates including graduation standards, standards-based IEPs, transition to higher education planning models, and curriculum and instructional strategies.”

    Yet, LAO’s Special Education Primer released this past January confirms that SWDs historically have had the lowest rate of improvement and progress in terms of student achievement and their recent gains on California Standards Test (“CST”) result from the fact that a greater proportion of SWDs have been shifted from the CST to an alternative test. Despite this, California’s APR asserts that “The requirements to graduate with a regular diploma in California are the same for all students. In addition to meeting the district’s requirements for graduation, all students are required to pass the California High School Exit Exam(CAHSEE) to earn a public high school diploma. [EC60850 (a)]”(emphasis added). Unfortunately, nowhere does California’s APR explain how California’s students with disabilities can continue to perform so poorly, failing to pass the assessment which “all” California students are required to pass, and yet such a high percentage of them are graduating from California’s high schools.

    Last year, the California Association Parent Child Advocacy (CAPCA) expressed concerns to the legislature regarding how CAHSEE exemption provisions intended to protect students with disabilities from tests that did not actually measure their subject matter competency have been transformed in practice into overreaching policies of issuing “diplomas” to students who do not have, and in some cases do not have the capacity to acquire, the skills California has designated as essential for high school graduation. CAPCA noted that “While some districts continue to respect the distinction between certificate of completion and diploma tracks, and fulfill their obligation under federal law to continue services for students past normal secondary school age who have not yet met, or cannot meet, traditional diploma requirements, others are taking advantage of the extended exit exam suspension to terminate services prematurely. This is happening both for students who need a little more time to complete graduation requirements legitimately, and for students for whom diplomas never would have been considered five or ten years ago due to the severity of their disabilities.”

    CAHSEE’s “primary purpose” was “(1) to significantly improve student achievement in public high schools and (2) to ensure that students who graduate from public high schools can demonstrate grade-level competency in reading, writing and mathematics” using the “graduation rate” measure begs the question: If we are not ensuring all CA’s students have such competency and yet we graduate them any way, aren’t we lying to them as well as to ourselves about the effectiveness of our education system and its overall accountability for ALL CA student outcomes?

  2. JWP 4 years ago4 years ago

    Where is the study that illustrates the validity of the New Core Standards? NCLB sure was a flop! Why are our children again being used as guinea pigs?

  3. el 4 years ago4 years ago

    It's fascinating to see how relatively small changes in the decision of how to incorporate this can make a difference between having your school be AOK/awesome and program improvement/the pits. All with no actual perceptible changes to students. It's a good illustration of the pitfall of getting too excited about numbers. That said, I am definitely in favor of adding graduation rate in some fashion, and at least reporting the A-G completion rate. I think these … Read More

    It’s fascinating to see how relatively small changes in the decision of how to incorporate this can make a difference between having your school be AOK/awesome and program improvement/the pits. All with no actual perceptible changes to students. It’s a good illustration of the pitfall of getting too excited about numbers.

    That said, I am definitely in favor of adding graduation rate in some fashion, and at least reporting the A-G completion rate. I think these are good directions.

    As someone who easily passed the California proficiency in lieu of a diploma, I would say that although I certainly left my high school with all the knowledge I needed and more, it was absolutely their failure to meet my needs as a student that kept me from being an ordinary graduate, and they shouldn’t count the same, regardless of the relative rigor of the exam.

  4. CarolineSF 4 years ago4 years ago

    How many students actually don't go on to high school? As a veteran of 26 kid-years as a parent in a diverse, high-poverty urban public school district, I've seen a number of troubled kids and kids who fell apart in high school. But I honestly haven't seen any who simply dropped out before starting high school. I wonder if it's kind of an urban myth among people with no involvement in urban school communities … Read More

    How many students actually don’t go on to high school?

    As a veteran of 26 kid-years as a parent in a diverse, high-poverty urban public school district, I’ve seen a number of troubled kids and kids who fell apart in high school. But I honestly haven’t seen any who simply dropped out before starting high school. I wonder if it’s kind of an urban myth among people with no involvement in urban school communities who, from a remote distance, view urban schools as a morass of nothing but chaos and dysfunction.

    Any reliable statistics on that?

    Replies

    • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

      I believe the dataquest statistics start in middle school. However, as John points out, that could simply be a tracking issue. In the past if a student moved schools and the district was unable to account for that the student would be considered a drop out. the new data collection mechanisms are supposed to help fix that.

      • CarolineSF 4 years ago4 years ago

        Here in SFUSD, I can't imagine how the tracking could be accurate. Our district is all-choice, so there are no feeder middle schools feeding into certain high schools (there are de facto trends, but nothing official). Students can go to any high school; there are a few charter high schools; there are many private options. How could this possibly all be tracked? Please question, question, question, question, question when there's discussion of students allegedly dropping out … Read More

        Here in SFUSD, I can’t imagine how the tracking could be accurate. Our district is all-choice, so there are no feeder middle schools feeding into certain high schools (there are de facto trends, but nothing official). Students can go to any high school; there are a few charter high schools; there are many private options. How could this possibly all be tracked?

        Please question, question, question, question, question when there’s discussion of students allegedly dropping out entirely after 8th grade. And then question some more.

  5. CarolineSF 4 years ago4 years ago

    There have been some notorious examples, nationwide, of schools that are touted for their graduation rates but that actually have very high attrition from 9th grade on. In some cases (the "Texas miracle" and New York City's illusory supposed gains of a few years ago, for example), schools were revealed to be willfully pushing out students who were unlikely to graduate. In fact, these practices are widely believed to be common. Are Steinberg and the CDE aware … Read More

    There have been some notorious examples, nationwide, of schools that are touted for their graduation rates but that actually have very high attrition from 9th grade on.

    In some cases (the “Texas miracle” and New York City’s illusory supposed gains of a few years ago, for example), schools were revealed to be willfully pushing out students who were unlikely to graduate. In fact, these practices are widely believed to be common.

    Are Steinberg and the CDE aware of these situations and the possibility that rewarding or punishing schools based on their graduation rates will lead to more of the same?

    Replies

    • navigio 4 years ago4 years ago

      There was even a Texas educator who recently was charged with a crime for doing that. "“There ought to be bonus points for re-engaged dropouts with career readiness certificates, bringing them to the level they are employable,” There is one, it's called pride.  It doesn't seem a good idea to give GED or alternative 'graduation' mechanisms equal scores since this is supposed to be the measure of the school.  If the school fails to provide what that … Read More

      There was even a Texas educator who recently was charged with a crime for doing that.

      “There ought to be bonus points for re-engaged dropouts with career readiness certificates, bringing them to the level they are employable,”

      There is one, it’s called pride. 

      It doesn’t seem a good idea to give GED or alternative ‘graduation’ mechanisms equal scores since this is supposed to be the measure of the school.  If the school fails to provide what that student needs then that should be reflected. Obviously there will be cases where the reason is to some extent ‘out of the child’s control’ (eg they are forced to work to support a family) but that is one of the pitfalls of simplistic measures. 

      Also, if the goal is to treat high school API so differently then it might be a good idea to think about giving it another name. How about HAPI..? 

  6. Paul Miench 4 years ago4 years ago

    Students will still have to pass the graduation exam to graduate?

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 4 years ago4 years ago

      I believe that the high school exit exam will eventually disappear or be subsumed by another of the Common Core high school tests, Paul, perhaps using a lower cut score to determine minimum requirements. At least that's been talked about. Caroline, Steinberg is aware of the dropout issue, starting in middle school (he wants that api there to reflect students who don't go on to high school). The four-year grad rate includes dropouts; in fact, the … Read More

      I believe that the high school exit exam will eventually disappear or be subsumed by another of the Common Core high school tests, Paul, perhaps using a lower cut score to determine minimum requirements. At least that’s been talked about.
      Caroline, Steinberg is aware of the dropout issue, starting in middle school (he wants that api there to reflect students who don’t go on to high school). The four-year grad rate includes dropouts; in fact, the final grad rate for 2010-11, recently updated, ticked upward, along with the dropout rate – a reflection of the fact that schools are doing a better job tracking students.

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