If a parent knew that in 2012 Menifee’s Paloma Valley High School had a score of 814 on the state’s Academic Performance Index and in the prior year received a score of 819, how helpful would that information be?
Moms and dads can easily discover that the state sets a target score of 800 for all schools and thus be assured that Paloma Valley meets this basic standard. Knowing more precisely what goes into calculating the API number, however, is an exercise best left to folks who don’t mind observing how sausage is made.
I invite individuals with a strong cognitive stomach to peruse the state’s Academic Performance Index information guide—and especially it’s multi-page answer to the question, “What is the API?”
The short version is that the API combines a number of variously weighted tests into a single number between 200 and 1000. Dangerously inquisitive minds can explore the specific weights and tests on the California Department of Education’s website.
I commented back in 1999 when the Public Schools Accountability Act was passed by the legislature that if politicians wished to obfuscate information about education, they could hardly do better than creating this hyper-opaque system.
Not surprisingly, various components of the API have been tweaked since its inception—a fact that makes it impossible to accurately compare results from earlier years with more recent data.
Moreover, last fall Governor Brown signed a bill (SB 1458) sponsored by Sen. Darrell Steinberg that will further modify the API by de-emphasizing standardized tests and including in the numerical mix factors like technical training, graduation and college attendance rates.
In his effusive praise of this educational placebo, Steinberg graciously acknowledged that the API is not “the cause of all our school woes” and even conceded that his numerical sugar pill didn’t constitute a “singular solution.” The notion, however, that this new tweak might, in the senator’s words, “fundamentally change public education in California” is laughable.
What might actually change public schools where an Hispanic mom discovered that her sixth grader was reading at a first grade level or where two veteran teachers were recently accused of molesting dozens of children within the same L.A. Unified District would be institutional changes that reduce the power of the California Teachers Association—a group that actually helped kill legislation making it easier to fire teachers accused of sexual misconduct against students.
For now, laws giving parents the ability to restructure failing schools (the “parent-trigger” law) and to transfer their kids to different public schools are two of the best tools available in a state where the CTA exercises immense change-frustrating power.