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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.

Comments from readers

"Api school scores are bais. School that have great teacher involement but little parent involement at home suffer. Teacher can only provide the classroom teaching, the rest lays on the shoulders of the parents providing a education foundation at home. A child will succeed in school as long as school and parent both participate to the full extent. I is my conculsion that even a school that only meets tha California API scoure rating could be a wonderful school, have great teacher, but because of lack of parent participation at home are scored lower. "
"To the comment below me: You should ask your counselor to show you specifically where he/she got the excuse. Bring your parents too, if you really want to change your classes. Do what is best for you, just keep that in mind. "
"hi I'm a freshman in highschool if a counselor calls you in and puts you in ELD even though you have a basic on the cst score for language arts do you have the rights to change the ELD class even though you got a basic on language arts (which mean a passing grade in cst) and you told him/her that you wanna change it and he/she makes up an excuse that says "sorry, can't change it cause that is the California State law stated." and I went to read the state law after I got home it doesn't said anything about requirements for students to take ELD, unless the student is having trouble with listening and English problems then he/she needs ELD. So I don't kno if this is the counselor request because if it is and he/she makes up another excuse again about California State Law ELD, do I have the rights to change the class to something different or I don't "
"Can someone please help me? This has nothing to do with the article. My son is an eight grader he attends one of the middle schools in Pico Rivera, CA. I want to know how if parents have the right to take their child out of ELD program. He has not met the criteria for reclassification, due to low test scores. He was born here and I am a parent that has been living in the USA since I was 7 years old. I really want him to attend regular english classes. Do I have the right to request him out? Please someone answer. Thank you so much."
"I disagree slightly with the phrasing of #4 and #5 in the article. Regarding #4, the claim that 'The API measures school performance': this is misleading, as one school can outperform another in terms of the number of questions answered correctly, but still end up with a lower API score based on the distribution of the scores -- i.e. who moves more students up from the lowest categories ('far below basic' and 'below basic'). As for claim #5 that 'The API focuses on achievement for all students,' this is true only in the Orwellian sense that it focuses on achievement -- and rewards schools for the achievement -- of low performing students. All I am saying is that most people don't know that the formula for API is heavily biased in favor of improving the low performers; if you were to improve more (in terms of questions correct) at the top, then you would NOT improve as much on the API as if you improve at the bottom. That's the state's value system working its way into a! n 'objective' formula for API."
"It is really important for parents to stay on top of the information because educating kids starts at home and School is our partner for our kids future."
"Do special ed students participate in API testing as well..especially those who have high academic performance?"
"re: 'API: 10 things parents should know' was probably one of the most informative articles I've ever read and I learned a lot from it. Thank you for clearing up the 'API' rating thing for me. I now feel a lot better about the school my son has to attend next fall."
"Your families and Staff will benefit from allowing workshops and seminars to assist them understanding the process of IEPs. I would like to offer your school a free workshop for your parents on how to organize your IEP Notebook for your next meeting. Please call me if you are interested. I would like to discuss with someone in detail. Thanks. "
"I have the same questions as one of the comments listed below, why is is that I cannot see the answer? My questions is that since API is for public schools how can I measure the performance of a private school?"
"I am starting a Ca Teaching Credential program and will persue work at an low API school upon graduation in order to qualify for grants to pay for my student loans. Is this usually a good idea or am I barking up the wrong tree?"
"Since API is just for public schools, if I want to send my child to a private school, what tools are available to measure their performance?"
"It would be good to include the impact of test takers who are allowed IEP based testing accomodations. It is my understanding that these special ed students will automatically receive a score of 'below basic' if testing accomdations are allowed. This seems to be set up to test how LD students take tests not to test what they have learned. Also, only 1% of a schools student body is allowed to take the CAPA. So if more than 1% of the student body has testing accomodations noted in their IEP they still may not be able to take the CAPA."
"Apples to Oranges It doesn't seem like an accurate measurement tool when we are not measuring the growth of the students who took the test, but rather the next year's crop, especially when you mention 3rd and 7th only. How can that be a measurement of growth? It is a measurement but is comparing apples to oranges. Ask any teacher. Some years are who catch on fast, are easilly schooled and get higher scores on this type of testing. The next year, a teacher might have a group of kids who are doing fine but can't perform at the same level as her previous class. Guess what happens???The API goes down. Wouldn't it be novel if the state found a statistically sound way to measure academic growth rather than using a system that doesn't take into account this type of flaw."
"A significant factor that you failed to mention is the sutdents themselves. Schools with low API scores typically have a majority of students who come from homes where school is not a priority. They do not do well on tests (or in school in general) because their parents do not care or support the school. These students typically have high rates of absences and discipline problems as well."
"My daughter attended Lorbeer Middle school and they have not meant the API in the last two years. All sub groups did not do well on the CAT/6. Unfortunately change is hard, and if you continue with the same programs that have failed in the past, then this is what happens. Our students suffer at the hands of poor decisions regarding the curriculum. There are no monies spent on the African American population to bring them up to speed. Their focus are on ELD, ELL and so on. We are living in a time where teachers are not wanting to teach or spend any additionl time with students that are falling behind. There is no accountability, and therefore the schools are without proper leaders (principals) that are not qualified to run the race, and a very difficult race. I we are not working together as a team, then our children suffer. Last year in 2005 I arranged a teacher conference, and I was told that it was a contractual day for the teachers, howeve this was a scheduled appointment. Currently we are and have requested justification for our daughter's grades and to date the teacher has been unable to produce records regarding her grades at Decker Elemntary School in Phillips Ranc. Are we involved in our daughter's education? Yes. However we still experience the racial tension, today in year 2006. Gatekeeping is what I would call it. Something you do to hold a certain ethnic group back on purpose. This is sad, and we have filed a formal complaint, that we hope will receive states attention. "
"Thanks for this informative piece for our parents. I think that it is important for our parents to know that API focuses on all students, and that no one group of people is singled out. "
"Thank You! This was very informative, as to the facts that ALOT of parents are unaware(unfortunately)of what API actually means! I, for one, was unaware of ALL the calculations and deciding factors behind the aspect. It's great to know that you offer this to the public, and saddens me that more parents don't take advantage of the very fact that this information can help them as well to do their part in parenting-as it's not just up to the teachers to 'teach' our children. Teaching is a 24-7 job for parents and teachers alike, and I give the teachers of our states a big thumbs up for having the energy to continue doing their profession as well as having to go home at the end of their'work'day as well as having to continue to do so when they return home! Thank you, Great Schools-for the insights and the knowledge of sharing your Knowledge as well! Gena Marie Combs Santa Paula, CA. 93060-3040"
"Unfortunately, the high-stakes nature of the API has converted the LBUSD classroom experience from one of true learning, to one of learning the test. 'Good Teachers' are now those who teach exclusively to the test."
"As an educator I believe these tests to be incredibly misunderstood and ill-used. National pecentile ranks will always have 50% of schools performing below the 50th percentile. The test is designed to provide such a result. As soon as a preponderance of schools rise above the 50th percentile the test has to be re-normed to produce an accurate percentile ranking. What is not understood is the percentile ranking given to an individual for their school is based on a score normed on data from tests that have been administered sometimes up to five five years previous to the the current tests. Such tests cannot be re-normed every year because it is cost prohibitive and time-consuming. Also if they were re-normed yearly most schools would never see any growth in scores because a full 50 percent of schools would fall below the fiftieth percentile for the test to be valid. If that were the case each year administrators and legislators would have a lot of explaining to d! o. These tests can be used by administrators to detect deficits in programs or curriculum but should never be used to track individual progress nor overall school success. "
"While I realize there is no perfect system of tracking performance, this particular one (the API) seems especially absurd. Our local elementary scores 9 out of 10 on its API but only scores 3 out of 10 compared with similar schools? What the heck does that tell anyone? That 70% of similar schools earned a 10 out of 10? This system is so complicated as to be meaningless, yet the pressure to achieve ever higher scores means that teachers are teaching to the test. The pressure to conform and to sit quietly for hours is especially hard for little boys, who want to be up and around DOING THINGS. I was a volunteer aide in my son's class, and I saw first hand the teachers' concern that the slow ones be brought up to speed (that is, test well), and the brighter ones slept through the activities, as they were not allowed to pursue individually challenging programs ('Stay with the class!'). The whole thing is about standardization and turning out little robots, it ! seemed to me, and my son almost got ground up in the cogs. The high school in my hometown was shaken up when it was found that teachers were FAKING scores to show improvement for lower socio-economic achievers. It was already one of the highest scoring schools in CA: does that mean all former scores were suspect? I find this tragic and of no real use to our kids. Either they can do math and write a paper, or they can't. How hard can it be to test age-appropriate measures of math, science, and language? And isn't the ultimate objective to be employable and happy as an adult? Why don't we have measures of gang activity in schools, bully quotients, depressed students needing counselor intervention? Why don't we have parent involvement indices, school activity participation, student ratings of loyalty and enjoyment of the educational process? There's so much more to a school than test scores, and I don't think this API throws much light on the subject. "
"Dear GreatSchoolsNet: Thanks for your Fact Page for Parents. I appreciate your effort to tell parents what the API is not in point 4. However, you let the state off pretty easily. The API is a one-way accountability system. A 2-way system of accountability would measure inputs as well as outputs (test scores) and would hold adult actors (not just teachers) accountable for their respective roles. Such a system is proposed in SB 495 (Vasconcellos) which calls for the creation of an Opportunities for Teaching & Learning (OTL) Index, published alongside the API. The bill is on the Governor's desk now. While it is clear to most people that a low API ranking corresponds to students' low socioeconomic status and higher concentrations of students of color and immigrant students, the State does not determine whether its schools are providing the basic educational tools and resources students need. The bill will most likely be vetoed as the prior 2 efforts were (SB 81-1999 and SB 1408- 2002) because the Governor has been advised that finding out what resources are missing will result in having to provide them -- unacceptable cost pressures. Please let me know if you want details of SB 495 (Vasconcellos). Thank you! Liz Guillen, Policy Advocate, PUBLIC ADVOCATES, INC., (916) 446-1940 "
"So what dose this mean to the students who have lower test scores? How dose this help them? Won't this force the students that are all ready struggling, to do better. When olny a hand full will fall in the qualifying catorgy for school learning programs. Even if the student is not catching on, they are moved up a grade. The ones that don't are at risk of falling throught the cracks. "