Valley Schools Score High API; Students Still Failing Standarized Tests

Though many schools continue to improve their performance, high percentages of students failing standardized tests in the Valley continue to plague Santa Barbara County School District.

While some schools on the Central Coast celebrate the recent release of the adjusted Academic Performance Index (API) results for the 2006 academic year; because of the significant number of students not testing proficient in different subject areas such as math and English; critics of the API challenge its use and questions the looming future of California’s Educational System.

API is a score given to schools on a scale of 200-1,000 that measures the academic performance of individual schools in the state. The state recommends that schools strive to make an 800 target. The growth target for any given school is based on students’ annual results of the STAR proficiency test as well as well as the California High School Exit Exam (CASSEE). Schools then receive a rank from one to 10, one being the lowest and 10 being the highest. Ranking is based on schools that have similar demographics.

“The API is what it is,” said Principal Jesse Leyva of Olive Grove Charter School, which scored a 705 and ranked 1 when compared to similar schools in the district and ranked 6 Statewide.

“We have to pay attention to API because of community concerns and for the sake of the school.”

Almost two months before California schools released their API results, the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), a public policy think tank based in Sacramento and San Francisco, released its own Report Card, grading the State on different areas in education, which included, but was not limited to the California High School Exit Exam (CASSEE), Dropout and Graduation Rates and the use of API.

The highest grade California received from the research group was a C- for its High School Exit Exam. Surprisingly, the state received an “F” for the use of its accountability system, API and D’s in other areas. The report called the accountability system convoluted and recommended the state “abandon the confusing and complicated API and focus instead on grade-level proficiency…”

“API shows the schools’ averages and doesn’t pay attention to the individual and that really does a disservice to the students,” said Director of Education Studies for Pacific Research Institute and author of the PRI Report Card, Lance Izumi.

Because API is based on the schools Valley Schools Score High API; Students Still Failing Standardized Tests averages, some critics such as Izumi contend that because the school may show an API growth for a given year, which is based on the student averages of STAR and CASSEE scores, individual students who are not testing proficient in different subject areas may not receive the help they need.

“We believe that the school system should focus on the proficiency at grade level of students,” Izumi said.

“No Child Left Behind requires all students to be grade-level proficient in math and English by 2013-14.” “The problem is that only about four out of 10 students are performing at proficient levels.”

Though most of the schools in the Valley are scoring relatively high on their API, many of the schools’ percentages of students testing at or above proficiency level is still lower than 75 percent.

Jonata Elementary in the Buellton School District scored an API of 845, but its population of students testing at or above proficiency in English Language Arts and mathematics ranged from 45 percent to 71 percent.

Though the Principal of Jonata Elementary school could not be reached for comment, some parents say they wonder if our state is breeding generations of kids who will not be prepared for the world.

“If all these young kids can’t make it in school they’re going to be struggling their entire lives,” Beverly Cormack, a visitor to the Valley, said. “We’ve already started pushing out generations of students who are not proficient.”

Other elementary schools in the district, including Los Olivos and Ballardhad high levels of students testing at or higher than the proficiency level as well as high API scores.

Los Olivos’ population of second thru eighth graders testing at or above proficiency varied from 57 – 84 percent and Ballard Elementary from 79 – 100 percent. Los Olivos received an 888 API score and Ballard received a 935.

“I and we are very proud of last year’s results,” said Ballard Principal Alan Pettlier. “But I don’t lay any claim to them since I just came in August.”

He attributes his school’s high levels of proficient students and API score to the school only having 92 students.

“Because of our size, we can do things that larger schools cannot,” Pettlier said. “We can put faces to students who are struggling and provide on-demand intervention. We don’t have to wait until test results.”

Charter schools in the Valley that scored well on API and also have higher percentages of proficient students contribute both to partnerships with parents, project based learning and the ability to provide flexibility in the classroom and with curriculum.

“It’s the collaboration that we have at charter, the way we work together with students and families, that promote the success of our students,” Superintendent Principal of Santa Ynez Valley Charter School Mariann Cooley said. “That’s why were here, that’s why families choose us.”

Principal Leyva shares some of the same beliefs as to why Olive Grove Charter school has shown progress in both API and student proficiency as well.

“Charter schools have flexibility to regulate curriculum, were not stuck to what the state has adopted,” he said. “We primarily focus on student outcomes, it’s a matter of aligning curriculum with local assessment tests and making sure learning’s happening.”

Whether our Valley schools are scoring high scores or not, many administrators, parents and students are voicing concern about API. While some people feel the accountability system is a tool that proves to be useful most agree there are loopholes that need closing.

“It’s more of a negligent assessment tool,” Izumi said. “It doesn’t address closing achievements gaps of different racial, ethnic and socio-economically disadvantaged groups.”

These are groups that have been historically left behind. But interesting enough, there is a high performance trend among schools that do have a low-income demographic and take California’s high and strenuous teaching standards seriously, he added.

Local administrators agree that addressing the gap between the haves and have-not’s is essential to the future of California’s educational system as well.

“The disparity between socio-economically disadvantaged students is a real relevant issue,” Pettlier said. “Unfortunately, some kids fight a lot of battles that others do not.”

“How we close that gap is something that the educational system is working on.”

Some local students are also in the amen corner of this side of the debate.

“I think it’s pretty messed up that some kids don’t get the help they need (in larger districts),” said 11th grader Kyle Elder who attends Santa Ynez Valley Union High. “Everyone should get attention. After all it’s all about the students not the school.”

Whatever the school or score, all seem to be in agreement that the API needs adjustment; weather for clarity reasons or, closing the gaps between the different sub-groups or to remedy the low proficiency percentages. There is a common consensus that it will take a collaboration of parents, schools and students to ensure kids in the Valley as well as the entire state are proficient and able to keep up with the demands of elementary, junior high, high school and college.

“Though API is not perfect, it is a tool,” Pettlier said. “A philosophy I try to live by is to operate with the notion of trying to do something better than I did before.”

“I don’t think there’s a school that can say it can’t do better,” he added. “Everyone can do more.”

For more information and a listing of Valley Schools’ API scores please visit our Web or the Santa Barbara County Education Office Web site, Santa Barbara County Education Office Web site