Another report urges changing API

A report this week from a Washington think tank bolsters Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s call for significantly revising the state’s primary accountability measure, the Academic Performance Index. Now, if Gov. Jerry Brown would only read it…

“Ready by Design: A College and Career Ready Agenda for California,” published by Education Sector, recommends that the API shift focus from students’ performance on standardized tests to measures of readiness for college and careers, such as high school graduation rates, results of Advanced Placement tests, and percentages of students needing remediation in college. Account-EdSectorStudyCover062012That’s essentially what Steinberg’s bill, SB 1458, would do without specifying what measures would be included, and that is what his bill last year, SB 547, would have done, had Gov. Jerry Brown not vetoed it with a snarky message sharply critical of quantitative gauges of school achievement.

The report concluded that additional measures would not be a panacea, “but an outcomes-oriented API would at least measure and reinforce what’s most important: graduating students from high school with the knowledge and skills to succeed in higher education and a career,” wrote co-authors Anne Hyslop, a policy analyst with Education Sector, and Bill Tucker, deputy director, policy development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report was funded by the James Irvine Foundation, a big promoter and funder of an initiative to combine college readiness and career technical education, called linked learning.

This is the second report from Ed Sector in a month on the California API. Last week, I wrote about “Academic Growth over Time,” in which author Richard Lee Colvin, a former executive director of Ed Sector, recommends Los Angeles Unified’s alternative way to calculate student results on standardized tests. The reports need not be mutually exclusive; recommendations from both could be combined.

When establishing the three-digit API index in 1999, the Legislature implied that it would be adding a range of measures, but never did. Instead, the API is based on California Standards Tests results, primarily English language arts and math, plus results on the high school exit exam, which are not indicators of preparation for life beyond high school. But by adopting Common Core standards two years ago, the state embraced the goal of aligning high school achievement with college and career expectations. The API needs to change to reflect this, the Ed  Sector report says.

In his veto message of SB547 last year, Brown said that changing API now, when facing the challenges of new Common Core curriculum, texts, and tests, “doesn’t make sense.”

Sharply rebutting that, the authors wrote, “In fact, what doesn’t make sense is implementing new standards, tests, and curriculum that are aligned with college and career readiness while continuing to evaluate school performance based on an entirely different goal. More important, Brown’s continued opposition to CALPADS, his refusal to apply for federal funds to improve the state’s data collection, and his veto of the API redesign, only serve to maintain the very status quo that he repeatedly condemns.”

While college acceptance rates are indicators of readiness, the report recommends adding evidence of post-high school achievement to the API, such as college remediation rates, percentage of students who return to college after one year, and the percentage of students who enter the military or who go straight to work after high school. Unlike states like Florida, which track students after high school, California has incomplete, voluntarily collected data – hence the criticism of Brown for forgoing chances for federal database money.

Underutilized EAP measure

California does have one measure of readiness that other states consider a model: the Early Assessment Program, a series of questions created by the California State University and administered as a supplement to CSTs taken by high school juniors. But the authors said that “while touted as a model for those developing Common Core assessments, its respect outshines its influence.” The University of California and most community colleges don’t use results of EAP, and most high schools aren’t using the followup courses in math and expository writing that would enable high school seniors to bypass remediation in college.

Quoting a 2006 survey that found 10 percent of high school teachers said their students graduated not ready for college, compared with 44 percent of college faculty who said students arrived unprepared, the report cited “mismatched expectations on both sides.” Including college readiness measures in the API would encourage high schools, colleges and business leaders to work closer to create common expectations and share expertise and knowledge. The report cited promising examples: collaboration between a San Diego high school and the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District to redesign high school English courses; and the extensive agreements between Long Beach Unified and the local community college and CSU, Long Beach.

Calling SB 1458 “my highest priority,” Steinberg said, “I really believe this bill would bring about a change in cultures. It would create incentives to link education with needs of economy in a fundamental way.”

“The Administration is fine with the API the way it is. I disagree and want to limit the importance of testing,” he said.

The bill, which has passed the Senate, will be heard in the Assembly Education Committee on June 27. Steinberg said he hoped to negotiate with Brown on the measures in the bill. It includes the possibility of including school inspections, which Brown raised in his veto message and mentioned in his State of the State message in January.

11 thoughts on “Another report urges changing API

  1. Paul Muench

    The report focuses on high schools.  And this makes sense as high schools have ready access to several other measures in addition to API.  But Steinberg’s bill addresses the entire K-12 Education system.  a lot more work is needed to define additional measures for middle schools and elementary schools.  The bill should limit itself to high schools or go back to the drawing board.

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  2. Pingback: The Educated Guess: Another report urges changing API : SCOE News Reader

  3. Beverly Young

    Good article.  But the point about use of EAP as an indicator is off target.  Whether UC and the community colleges use EAP scores does not detract from the fact that EAP does provide the college readiness indicator, by high school, that is being proposed for school report cards.  Of course it would be great if all higher ed in California agreed to use the results for placement–and maybe that day is still coming.  But in the meantime, we already have the assessment measure of college readiness in place, in a format that is easily understood by parents and others.  Results, by high school, are already available online.  We have tried for years to get this important indicator to be included on high school report cards, but it has been strongly resisted.  With Steinberg’s support, perhaps it can finally happen.

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  4. Paul Muench

    I’ve only read the digest which states that elementary and middle schools must use API for at least 40% of any score.  So there’s 60% of white space for another measure to become the bulk measure.  I’m not opposed to having some flexibility in the law, but I’d like to see some discussion on what would actually be used before changing the law.  Maybe I’ve missed something, but sure seems like this issue could use some public debate.

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  5. Navigio

    To be honest, I am a bit torn by the desire to reduce a school’s measure to a single value, though I understand the desire to simplify.
    Also, will the addition of broader measures impact the ability to calculate subgroup API?
    One change I would like to see is the requirement that any ‘single’ measure that is generated be coupled with the requirement that the data used to calculate that measure be made public. I don’t think that is the case now for subgroup API.

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  6. Paul Muench

    For the human expertise they bring, I can see school inspections being useful for schools that don’t meet test result targets.  That seems to match the experience of the English system that ties the frequency of inspections to a school’s prior inspection results.  A report I read from Education Scctor says English Schools that are judged as good or outstanding are only inspected every 5 years.  Schools that are judged inadequate are inspected yaerly.

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  7. Sue Moore

    School inspections are very valuable, but first of all there has to be clear agreement as to “what” is being inspected, and “what” the consequences will be for inadequacy. I recently spent some time with one of England’s former senior inspectors, and it is clear that the differences in the systems would require an entire overhaul of the CA system. I read Ofsted reports sometimes (I try to keep somewhat abreast of my old system!) and I cannot imagine California administrators and teachers being able to deal with the specificity of the critique. I also talked  to a retired headmaster – very experienced – and he explained how he reshaped a school. First of all he was able to “move ” some teachers using different approaches. He also taught some classes, selecting to teach the students who were struggling. In this way he set an example, and was always current with the changing nature of students. Having said that, there are clear flaws with the current Ofsted system, so those should be corrected. I like school inspections – but to be worthwhile the setup would take time and money, and unless the reports were meaningful (that is, change could be effected) they wouldn’t be worth much. Both of the aforementioned people were outstanding teachers for many years before they moved into leadership positions, and therein lies the heart of the good inspector.

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