The API: 10 things parents should know
The Academic Performance Index (API) is California's system for measuring school performance and improvement.
By GreatSchools Staff
1. The API is not a test.
Rather, the API is a school performance measurement system that was first developed as part of California's 1999 Public Schools Accountability Act. Each year, the state calculates the Base API for each school to establish a baseline for the school's academic performance, and it sets an annual target for growth. Each summer, the state announces the Growth API for each school, which reflects growth in the API from year to year.
The 2011 Base API, released in May 2012, is calculated using each school's test results from the California Standards Tests (CSTs — state tests designed to see how students are learning state standards), the California Modified Assessment (CMA), the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) and the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE).
The 2012 Growth API, which will be released in September 2012, shows the school's academic growth for the year. It is calculated in the same way as the 2011 Base API.
2. The API measures both school performance and improvement.
The API can be used to see how well a school did on tests in any given year, as well as to track school progress over time. Each year, parents can review a school's API number, which shows how well it did relative to the state's goal of 800, and also check the school's growth from the previous year. To make it an accurate measure of school improvement, the Base API calculation only includes test results of students who were in the district during the previous school year. The Growth API is calculated using results of students from the current school year.
3. The API has very high stakes.
Due to the spotlight on API results from newspapers and the state, schools are under tremendous pressure to increase test scores and improve their APIs. While some argue that this pressure encourages schools to improve classroom instruction, others are afraid that schools will shortchange rich curricular programs in favor of test preparation drills.
4. The API measures academic performance, not school quality.
As a parent, you may have heard people say things like, "The school has an API of 750, so it must be a great school," or "The API is only 550? What's wrong with this school?" While these simple assessments are tempting, 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.
5. The API focuses on achievement for all students.
The API is designed to show how well schools are serving students across all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. For this reason, separate APIs are calculated for each of a school's statistically significant subgroups, which include any ethnic groups that account for a significant percentage of the school's population. If "numerically significant," APIs are also calculated for a school's socioeconomically disadvantaged students (students who qualify for the subsidized lunch program or who don't have a parent with a high school degree), English learners, and students with disabilities.