API should be replaced, state committee recommends

February 3, 2015

A state advisory committee that spent more than two years trying to find a way to rejigger the Academic Performance Index is now recommending moving away from that single number in favor of a more comprehensive system allowing for a broader picture of school effectiveness.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee approved a recommendation calling on the state to replace the API, the three-digit number that since 1999 has been the dominant means by which schools are measured.

Instead, California should adopt a system that relies on “multiple measures” to evaluate schools, the committee said. Such a system – which has yet to be determined – would be better aligned with the requirements of the new school funding law, the Local Control Funding Formula. The law sets out eight priority areas districts must focus on, including pupil achievement and engagement, implementation of academic standards and other factors. Standardized test scores, the sole component of the API, would be just one part of a new system.

“It really does indicate a swing in the way we think about school quality and really preparing students for success later on,” said committee member Julianne Hoefer, director of assessment and accountability for the Fountain Valley Unified School District. “It does allow us to stop looking for the ‘magic bullet’ and start looking for what is right for individuals.”

The committee’s recommendation is in keeping with the direction seemingly favored by the State Board of Education, which will ultimately decide how or whether to change the state accountability system. State Board of Education President Michael Kirst has said the API, a score between 200 and 1,000, has outlived its effectiveness as the sole measure of school quality. He has called for a more comprehensive view of school performance that would function something like a “dashboard,” providing a snapshot of various factors.

In January, the State Board of Education asked the accountability advisory committee to study whether a “single index” – the API – was the best measure of school performance or whether a broader system would be more effective. Such a system could include measures like absenteeism, suspension and expulsion rates, course-taking patterns, test scores, graduation rates and other factors to evaluate how well schools are serving students.

In a separate but related action, the committee signed off on a list of initial measures that could be included in one portion of the new system – how to measure how well schools are preparing students to succeed in college and careers, a goal outlined in the new Local Control Funding Formula and in the Common Core State Standards being rolled out in California schools. Factors included in the initial “college and career indicator” approved by the committee are student participation in SAT and ACT college entrance exams; students in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses; students taking the sequence of courses, called a-g, required to be eligible for admission to California State University and University of California; and the number of students who take career technical education courses. The list will likely grow, with more details and additional measurements, as the committee continues its work.

“It seems like we’ve moved to a new era from where we were in the 1990s,” said Kenneth Young, Riverside County superintendent of schools and co-chair of the Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee.

The state board is expected to discuss the committee’s recommendation for a new accountability system at its March meeting. Such a change would also require legislation to alter existing laws that call for an annual API score.

The API “helped accomplish some amazing things,” said Kenneth Young, Riverside County superintendent of schools, who serves as co-chair of the Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee. The API helped schools target low-achieving students for intervention, he said, and also allowed parents to compare and evaluate schools based on test scores.

Still, the score is limited in what it reveals about other measures of schools’ effectiveness, he said.

“It seems like we’ve moved to a new era from where we were in the 1990s,” Young said.

The committee did not discuss specifics of what the new measurement system will look like, but said it should be easily understandable to the public and should allow for comparisons between schools. Pending board approval, details would be worked out in coming months through a process that will allow for public input and discussion, said Keric Ashley, interim deputy superintendent at the California Department of Education.

However, such a system could not be ready for use until fall 2016 at the earliest, the committee said in a partner recommendation also approved Tuesday. That timeline will give the state time to evaluate results expected this year of the new computerized tests, the Smarter Balanced Assessments, that are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. *While teachers will have student scores two to four weeks after testing is completed in their classrooms, the state Department of Education will not have statewide results until late August – leading some committee members to question if even 2016 is too ambitious a timeline.

Doug McRae, a retired testing expert, cautioned against going too long without releasing some data on school performance. The State Board of Education has already suspended the release of the API this year during the transition to the Smarter Balanced tests, and some groups, including the Los Angeles Unified School Board, have asked the state board to postpone the release again next academic year.

While the full range of 2015 Smarter Balanced test scores will not be valid enough to use to evaluate school performance, McRae said, some subsets of the scores, if validated, could be used to provide a picture of how well schools are doing.

The Public Schools Accountability Act Advisory Committee has been working to reconfigure the API after a 2012 state law required that the measure be changed to incorporate how well schools are preparing students for success in college and careers. That charge became increasingly complicated after the passage of the Local Control Funding Formula, which requires districts to file Local Control and Accountability Plans outlining how they are meeting the eight priority areas.

Any new accountability system is intended to complement the work schools are doing in their LCAPs, officials said.

* Story updated Feb. 4 to clarify details around timing of test results.

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