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ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE INDEX

State's Public Schools Improve at Slower Pace

Only 53% statewide meet test score targets, down from 72% two years ago. L.A. Unified bucks the trend, exceeding its goals.

October 18, 2002|Duke Helfand | Times Staff Writer

The California Department of Education on Thursday released the latest round of scores for the state's Academic Performance Index.

The API, now in its fourth year, evaluates schools based on results from the Stanford 9 exam and tests linked to California's new academic standards in English-language arts. It is a cornerstone of California's public school accountability system.

The performance index tells whether schools are meeting state-mandated targets of higher test scores each year. The scores are widely discussed in academic circles, and scrutinized by principals, school boards and parents.

State officials reported data for more than 6,400 campuses this year. The data show that California's public schools are improving at a slower pace than in previous years: Fifty-three percent of schools statewide met their test score targets this year, down from 72% two years ago. To meet their targets, schools must show improvement campuswide, as well as for racial and ethnic subgroups.

Similarly, 37% of schools statewide qualified this year for financial awards for exceeding their testing score targets. The figure two years ago was 69%. Teachers in previous years earned up to $25,000 bonuses if their schools boosted scores above their state targets, although funding for this year's awards is not budgeted and prospects are uncertain.

The Los Angeles Unified School District was an exception to the trend: Seventy-two percent of its schools met or exceeded their API targets this year, slightly up from 2000. And 67% of schools qualified for awards, down 1 percentage point from 2000.

Los Angeles Unified's elementary schools drove the school district's performance. Officials said those schools have focused on reading and math, introduced coaches for teachers and now regularly evaluate students' progress.

"This is just another indicator of the improvement we are making in the elementary grades," Supt. Roy Romer said.

Statewide, more than 1,000 schools did not receive API scores Thursday, primarily because they are correcting demographic information or because of testing irregularities. These campuses are expected to receive their scores in December.

The data released Thursday also revealed that most of the schools that could have faced state sanctions will escape that fate this year because they showed growth in their test scores. Only 22 schools -- out of nearly 400 at risk -- will face some discipline, such as having teachers reassigned or having outside managers take over. State officials will meet over the next three months to decide what action to take on these schools.

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What is the API?

California's Academic Performance Index is the cornerstone of Gov. Gray Davis' push to hold schools accountable for student performance. These statistics indicate whether schools are meeting improvement targets for the Stanford 9 and California's academic standards.

Schools must meet those targets--for the school overall and for sizable subgroups within each school--to qualify for cash awards that the state set aside in previous years to encourage academic improvement. Funding is not available so far this year.

The statewide list covers 7,493 schools. Readers who want to know how a school in Los Angeles County is faring can use this index as a guide.

Starting next year, the API will include results from the state's math standards test and its high school exit exam.

Last January, the state ranked schools on a scale of 1 to 10 based on results of the 2001 tests, with 10 representing the top 10% of schools. New rankings, based on the 2002 tests, will be released in January. Results for schools and districts are available on the Web at http://api.cde.ca.gov.

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How the API Was Computed

State officials took each school's test scores from last spring and used a seven-step formula to obtain a score from 200 to 1,000. To satisfy the Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999, officials set a statewide API performance target of 800 out of 1,000. The annual growth target for a school is 5% of the range between a school's API and 800. For example, a school with a 2000 API of 500 is 300 points below the statewide target; 5% of 300 is 15 points, so that school's goal for the 2001 API would be 515.

To qualify for possible awards, schools must also show significant improvement in the scores of each sizable subgroup. For example, the scores of Latino students, if they represented a significant subgroup in 2001 and 2002, would have to rise by 80% of the growth target. The same would be true of economically disadvantaged students.

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LOS ANGELES COUNTY

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