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Testing in California: An overview

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By GreatSchools Staff

Academic Performance Index

The purpose of the Academic Performance Index (API) is to measure the year-over-year growth in academic performance for California schools. The API summarizes a school's standardized test results into a single number. Each school's STAR and CAHSEE results are calculated into a complex formula that assigns the school an API between 200 and 1000 (1000 being the best score). The state has set 800 as the target API score that schools should try to achieve. Each API cycle includes a Base API and a Growth API. The Growth API is calculated using test results from the school year after the results used in the Base API calculation. The difference between the Growth API and Base API measures a school's academic growth from one year to the next.

The API number is translated into a ranking, 1 to 10, from underperforming to high performing. It is used to help schools track their own progress and to hold schools accountable for improvement. The API is an important metric because schools that consistently fall short can be subject to strong local or state sanctions, including reorganization or closure. Schools also can be eligible for recognition through the California Distinguished Schools Program. So it's important to pay attention to the API, as this number may have a big impact on your school's future.

Base API

The 2011 Base API was calculated using each school's test results from the state's Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program and the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) taken during the 2010-2011 school year. The California Department of Education releases the Base API results each spring. The Base API is used to measure academic improvement from one year to the next by comparing it to the Growth API released the following summer.

Growth API

The 2012 Growth API will be calculated using the same test criteria as the 2011 Base API. However, the 2012 Growth API was calculated from the 2011-2012 standardized test results, while the 2011 Base was calculated using the 2010-2011 test results. The Growth API is used as a measure of improvement in academic performance when compared to the Base API.

API growth targets

Each school is assigned an API growth target by the state. For Base APIs between 200 and 690, the growth target is 5 percent of the difference between the Base API and 800. For schools with a Base API from 691 to 795, the growth target is five points. Schools with a Base API above 795 are expected to increase to and/or maintain an API of 800 or greater. A school meets its overall API growth target if it meets its schoolwide target and all numerically significant subgroup targets.

Improvement is measured by subtracting the 2011 Base API from the 2012 Growth API. Positive numbers mean that standardized test results improved, while negative numbers indicate that test results declined.

API subgroups

Numerically significant subgroups are defined by the state as having at least 100 students in the group who have valid test results or when there are 50 or more such students and they constitute at least 15 percent of all tested students. Subgroups include the following ethnic and socioeconomic categories: Black or African American (not of Hispanic origin), American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Filipino, Hispanic or Latino, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, White (not of Hispanic origin), two or more races, socioeconomically disadvantaged, English learners, and students with disabilities. Students are categorized as socioeconomically disadvantaged if they participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program or if their parents did not graduate from high school.

Statewide rank

The California Department of Education ranks all schools from 1 to 10 according to their Base API. A rank of 10 means that the school's API fell into the top 10% of all schools in the state at the same grade level. The most recent ranks are based on the results of standardized tests taken in spring 2011.

Similar Schools Rank

The API Similar Schools Rank compares the test score performance of schools with comparable demographic profiles using a scale of 1 to 10. A school with a low API but high Similar Schools Rank may be more effective than a school with low ranks all around.

The California Department of Education calculated the Similar Schools Rank by comparing each school to 100 schools with similar demographic factors, including student ethnicity, parent education levels, and the percent of students receiving a free or reduced-price lunch.

Why do the API results matter?

As a fundamental part of the Public Schools Accountability Act (PSAA), API scores are used to meet state and federal requirements for school accountability and are an important component for measuring a school's Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall score for his school. If your child scores below the standards, contact his teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home. If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you as a parent can do to help.

Why do some schools not have APIs?

There are several reasons why some schools don't have API results. For example, if a school failed to test at least 85 percent of eligible students or if the school tested fewer than 11 students, the state does not calculate an API for that school. Schools that serve specific kinds of students, such as special education schools, are currently accountable under a different model.

Comments from readers

"teachers need to stop teaching to the test we need more critical thinking skills! "
"My sister is currently a student at Sylmar High School in California and they have informed her that in order to pass high school, she will have to perform well on the CST's. I know that the CAHSEE is needed but the CST's are only to assess a child's skills correct? I only ask because this school has been known to lie before in order to "encourage" the students to perform better. "
"I would like to ask that even your only grade6 in the philippines then you have not finish it and you have no any records that will be submitted in your school is it ok that you could proceed in high school provided you have past the exam.? pls. response "
"In the second paragraph, second line, of the section copied below, the author of the article spelled "principle" incorrectly. Ed. Note: Thank you for this note. We've checked this and it appears to be spelled and used correctly, in its adjective form meaning "most important." "
"I've been told that CST scores go down from second to third grade, go back up in fourth grade, and, again, go down in fifth grade. Is this true across the state? "
"I am a student in Fontana, Ca,and I believe this test, the CST, is great for the reasons being: 1. It measures how much the student has learned, 2. How good the school's curriculum is. And 3. How well the teachers execute their jobs. By the way the tests are not very hard. "
"I am hoping to know how relevant the reading list level is and how it is determined. I have a 5th grader who scored 600/600 in both Math and English for 3 years in a row, 1200 each year from 2nd to 4th. She also scored 100% on her 4th grade Writing Application score. Yet, her reading list level is 9. It was 7(2nd grade), 8(3rd grade), then 9(4th grade). It looks to me that it just goes up by 1 every year. The reading level list doesn't mean much to me, since my daughter has read well over 3,000 books already. Yet, I am just wondering who gets the level 13+ and how. "
"As for perfect scores, it's quite common at our school. I have 7 students with perfect scores in math and 3 in language arts. "
"I, too am proud of my second grader. He scored perfect in math and he got a 525 in english language arts. He scored perfect on all sections of the test except literary reading and analysis where he got an 83%. He is African American and attends a Title 1 school in a crime-infested and impoverished community... "
"My child is in second grade and just received perfect scores on both math and language arts. Just like us, the school couldn't be prouder of him. :) "
"When will the parents receive CST results for 2011? "
"What happens if you need to take your child out of school the week of STAR testing to visit an elderly family member out of state? Can the test be done early or made up after returning? Thank you to anyone who answers! :)"
"I have a 20 year old and an 18 year old..They have both completed high school. My 18 (4.0)year old graduated last June & walked on stage last June on her older Sister's Birthday..Her older sister (3.8) had passed the literature the first time around but, even though she received A's in Geometry, Algebra etc, taken the test 5 times, missing by between 1-3 points each time. (She'll be taking the test for the sixth time next week). She missed by 1 point on last November's test. The Cahsee is a crock of crap. She has friends who passed both math and Literature the first time...Friends who can't even speak fluent english & spell worse than a 6year old. I think some of the schools 'fix' the tests. If a kid works their butt off academically and earns the credits needed to graduate there sould be nothing holding them back from walking across that stage. I am so sick of seeing this happen to so many kids.....Somebody needs to do something!!"
"my grandaughter is a senior in High School, she has taken the Cahsee math test at least six times, missing 2 questions and missing it by 1, she is waiting for her February results which is April, this is rediculous. If they are basing her future on the test, then why bother going to School? until she passes the math we can't even make any arrangements for Her Graduation 06/2011. is there anything that can be done?"
"There was a kid named Jessica Paige Waybright who got perfect scores on the CST."
"I would love to know how many kids get perfect scores on their STAR tests, too. My daughter who will be in 4th grade has gotten 600 on her math and 600 on her English for 2 years in a row. My friends who taught in LAUSD told me that they'd never seen it before....So, I am a bit curious...."
"How many kids get a perfect score on the star tests each year?"
"Could someone help me understand how is the math cst scores broken? How is each item weighted? Thank you, Frank"
"After reviewing, I agree with 8/19/2009 comments. This could be contributed to the middle and high schools lack of ‘required participation from the parent’ and ‘the school’s lack of informing parents on student issues’. On another note, regarding comment of 6/8/2009, most of us know there is usually an underlining issue that causes such behavior. Your negative comments towards these students or any others indicate your disregard towards teaching. Being a 23-year veteran parent, I was fortunate enough to have wonderful instructors that inspired my children to continue through college and be successful in life. Realizing children hold different views; our formula was to adapt learning to their needs. Oops, meaning, most disruptive students require more work, an instructor and family who is willing to help them academically succeed in life! To all the parents who make negative comments about the education system or excuses why my student did not pass a test. Children and teens feel that negative energy and tunnel it at school. Maybe you need to go back and look at what can you do to help your child succeed in school. Refocus negative to positive attitude. Remember, no one is perfect, including the education system. Peace out… "
"I have two kids on school and I explain them that school is their job and they have to study every day to ear good grades and I believe with the Exit Exam the students can prove if they were in school to learn good skills and continue with the most important steps, please thinking of the old years when kids were promoted to the next level because the age not of their because knowledge is wrong. How can we expect that our kids will be successful in their life if we are not preparing them well enough to start a new career when it is not just about graduating it is about how well they are doing and how hard they are working through the years."
"THANK YOU FOR THIS DETAILED INFORMATION AND CLARIFICATION! question: at elementary level, what interventions are set in place to bring lower achieving students (low test scores) up to grade level? it is common knowledge that a high amount of children are reaching middle school with an inability to complete basic math and english assignments. (how did they slip through the cracks - why do they move through the grades without being able to read/write and complete basic math??). common sense would lead to the intervention being in place here rather than later years when children have built up psychological defenses to learning at middle school/high school monies are spent on 'intervention tools' but by this time so much schooling/learning has been missed. ((ie: 'locking the stable door after the horse has bolted')). WHAT HAPPENS WITH THE STATE TEST SCORES? are they used as a guide tool to make adjustments or are they for documentation purposes only? Thank you for any informative response."
"Looks like the older kids are getting dumb and dumber when the freshman are passing Algebra II and juniors are barely passing Algebra I."
"Some children disrupt the classroom because that is--perhaps--how they can have a sense of power in a world where they feel they have none. . .no power over who they can become. . .low-self-esteem. I'm just speculating, but as a 20-year veteran teacher at Dominguez High School Compton, California, it is something I have observed, and my heart goes out to those kids. Still, that type of behavior is not and should not be tolerated. When all of us--teachers, students, parents/guardians--work together and put in our fair and honest share of effort, then our kids can succeed. . .and isn't that what it's all about, anyway?"
"To the person(s) posting 4/27/2009.....are you referring to the Exit Exam as the test that your daughter missed passing by 5 points??? I'm not sure what state you reside in, but here in California, the Exit Exam is first given to high school students as sophomores. Students are given at least 5 opportunities to retake to pass this Exam before graduation. Here, there are two subjects that are tested; English/Writing and Math. 450 points for each of the two. The passing requirement is only 350 per. To the 'Hogwash' response on 5/21/2009.......get a clue!!! Since when has summer school ever been a bad thing , whether the attendee is a straight 'A' student or one just trying to keep/catch up. It's about the effort to do better, as well as being held accountable if one hasn't made the effort or needs alittle extra help. STAR testing isn't CRAP.....CORPORAL PUNISHMENT and your skewed or blurred misconception is the 'CRAP' here. There are WAY TO MANY kids who don't 'give a ! damn' about their education(s), but all the while don't realize how their efforts, or lack there of affect the students around them who do care and make the efforts! There are too many school age kids who have come to believe/accept that the bare minimum effort, or less is acceptable. IT ISN'T! The 'respect in the classroom' IS in fact the kids who do make the effort, do the homework, do the extra credit, put in the extra hours and stress and sweat about the grades and or teachers comments. The kids disrupting the classroom are the ones struggling, hoping to bully, con and fake their way through. STAR testing or otherwise, the bottomline is that we as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles need to hold our children accountable and continually try to reinforce how important any and all education is."
"I have kids in public school and I teach part-time in both the CSU and UC system. In the private sector where I work full time, standards are measured by the work you do and success is defined by the ability to do it and profit frm it. The 'test' is simply an agreed upon standard, like a 10' rim for all you midnight basketballers. The tests were implemented to measure our students performance. Immigrants, coming in from third-world contries, were scoring higher and had better work ethics than out students in the 70s and 80s. It is like a game of basketball where all the weak guys under 5' had to play the guys over 6'. Over the past 15 years, I can definitely say that writing, communication, and test taking skills have improved since the testing was initiated. There are other factors, but the testing helps focus a student on doing work. Yes, it is more work, but this is good for students. Now, many parents feel like failures when Johnny scores in the 30% range. But here and as in real life, Johnny can take summer school to perform at a higher level. In a sense, improve his game. "
"Loved your format....... I will look forward to your next update. Thank you, "
"This is hogwash. They teach to these tests, and if you are 3 or under instead of being held back you have to go to summer school. And then when your 7th grader is placed in a class that all scored low, for example a math class, he is in there with all kinds of kids disrupting the class. Bring back choice of corporal punishment. Bring back f___ing respect to the classroom. This star testing crap is crap!"
"hi...this is not fair to the people who went to school for 12 years and can't graduate becuse of this daughter went to jordan high and miss passing this test by 5 points it was one week before graduation when i found out that she wasnt passing because of this test, i felt so hurt, i paid for her high package which cost me 1200 then they didnt want to return my money or the thing in her package, thats wrong the school board should stop this test and go back to the old days when all they needed was good permance in school."