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10 Things Parents Should Know About API Scores

Many Schools Fail to Hit Test Score Targets

Answers to your API Queries

Why are we so focused on test scores?


2008 High School Rankings

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Cupertino's New Middle School

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How Cupertino Schools Rose to the Top

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Evolution of Cupertino Schools

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Home Buyers Pay Premium for Top School Districts

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The State of Real Estate, April 2007

The API: 10 Things Parents Should Know

The Academic Performance Index (API) is California's system for measuring school performance and improvement.

By GreatSchools.net Staff

1. The API is not a test. Rather, the API is a school performance measurement system which was first developed as part of California's 1999 Public Schools Accountability Act. Early 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 fall, the state announces the Growth API for each school, which reflects growth in the API from year to year.

The 2004 Base API, released in March 2005, is calculated using each school's test results from the California Achievement Test, Sixth Edition (CAT/6) (which compares California students with students nationwide) for grades 3 and 7 only, California Standards Tests (CSTs--state tests designed to see how students are learning state standards), the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) and the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE). The 2005 Growth API, to be released in October 2005, is calculated in the same way as the 2004 Base API. The API is still evolving.

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 API calculation only includes test scores for students who were in the district during the previous 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. APIs are also calculated for a school's "numerically disadvantaged students" (students who qualify for the subsidized lunch program or who don't have a parent with a high school degree).

6. Schools that don't improve their APIs must get help. If a school doesn't meet its API target, it's put on a list of low-performing schools and can receive grants and special assistance to help with improvement efforts. If a school continues to fall short of its target, it may eventually be subject to strong local or state sanctions, including reassigning the principal (subject to a public hearing), reorganization or even school closure.

7. API results are for schools and districts only. There is no such thing as an individual student API. The API is based on scores from the CAT/6, CSTs, the CAPA and the CAHSEE. The API measures how a school's or district's academic performance improves from year to year.

8. The API has changed. It used to include just the results of the norm-referenced tests --in the first years, the Stanford 9 tests, and later the CAT/6. These tests compared California students to their peers nationwide. In recent years the emphasis has shifted to include more results from the CSTs, which more accurately reflect what California students are expected to learn in the classroom, and fewer results from the CAT/6.

In 2002-2003 CSTs in language and math (for grades 2 through 11), social science (for grades 10 and 11), and the CAHSEE were added to provide a more accurate picture of what students have learned. In 2003-2004 CST science tests in grades 9 through 11 and the CAPA in language and math in grades 2 through 11 were added. In 2004-2005 even more indicators were added. The API now includes the CST in science for grade 5 and in history-social science for grade 8. In addition, only CAT/6 Survey results for grades 3 and 7 will be used.

Because of these changes in the 2004 Base API, a new method of calculation has been adopted to take into account that students are tested in different content areas in different grades.

9. The API will keep changing Over the next few years, the API will continue to incorporate more and different measures of student learning and school quality.

10. The API is complicated. If the whole topic of the API confuses you, you're not alone. Educators and parents alike struggle to understand where the API comes from, how it's calculated and what exactly it means. Here's the bottom line: APIs range from 200 to 1000 and the goal for all schools is 800. The API is based on test scores and is calculated in a way that encourages schools to raise the test scores of the lowest-scoring students. For more technical information about the API, visit the California Department of Education.

Updated October 2005

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