Posts Tagged ‘Academic Performance Index’

Coming Nigh: More Change

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Consider the April 2013 San Francisco Chronicle article about real estate agents being asked to show homes in the ‘right’ peninsula areas. Peruse the April New York Times article about Utah schools offering dual-language classes. The education-oriented reader bites her lip to keep from smirking.

The ‘right’ area to California teachers means one near a school with high scores for the California Academic Performance Index because the home can be sold later for more money than homes by schools with low scores. Utah wants all those public school kids to make money when they grow up by speaking another language so they can be Mormon missionaries to foreign countries first and then high earners in the global market forever after. Bilingual education finally gets its due.

But make no mistake! The major school district business across the nation, high-scoring or bilingual, is to establish new teacher and administrator evaluation models. Just google ‘school evaluation’ and an abundance of ‘for and against’ articles come forward. Keep in mind: the conflict heats up when a plan is devised, and the percent of student test success is built-in. Must the teacher’s evaluation show that 30% or 10% or 50% of her students have reached proficiency for the year? Who cares except those who want a number, the higher the better? Is that proof of a good teacher?

The controversy gets more complex because, at the same time, 45 of the fifty states in the union are preparing to establish Common Core State Standards (CCS). In California the curriculum content goal is to transition by 2014-2015. You can figure that teachers are not uneasy about real estate values near their school, but may agonize over changes to dual-language policies and procedures in order to account for CCS. Or be troubled by imminent changes to the assessment tools used for evaluation.

The top need, however, is long-term professional development for teachers before changes are made. Roll your eyes if one-day workshops are all the school gets for the implementation being asked. Raise your eyebrows when no coaches model what is being suggested for the classroom. Pinch your thumb against your finger if funds are skimpy for the tools you will need. Shake your head if piles of papers are handed out, but no time is given for collaboration.

How about professional development at your school that uses “inquiry teams” which meet often during the year to learn, practice, question, and promote change?

No Money Withdrawn Yet, But Schools Not Safe

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

The California school year still exists with no further furloughs than those already negotiated. State legislators and school personnel await funding dollar signs to evaporate. All the while a number of school foundations still join together to pursue reform goals, putting together research and reports on possible ways to help weak students get the most for their education greenbacks.

Edsource, a California forum, recently announced collaboration with five other groups in the country. The goal is to update information on expanded learning time, especially in low-income neighborhood schools, the ones affected most by poor resources to achieve student success. The research will examine after-school programs, health services, and other social services to elevate student chances for graduation from high school. For a number of years, critics of public schools and charter school promoters have endorsed the expansion of school learning time, not a favorite of long-term teacher’s union negotiators. Funds have been granted from the Ford Foundation, which has made “More and Better Learning Time” a priority in its philanthropy.

A variety of California programs to expand learning time have been tried for many years, especially under the gun of California’s Academic Performance Index and the current unrevised federal No Child Left Behind Act. However, the plans have been underfunded and not analyzed for successful practices although a variety of ways to help students have been tried. Read more in “Expanded Learning Time in Action” from the Center for American Progress.

Speaking of the phrase “under the gun”, arguments about weapons control have not abated nor led to consensus across the country. Last week South Dakota’s legislature authorized school employees to carry guns. The legislation, reported in the March 9, 2013, edition of The New York Times, is riddled with details to make the bill palatable. For example, South Dakota school districts decide whether to permit firearms. Four other states were mentioned that have some variation of laws to carry guns in schools.

On the other hand, Colorado is about to take a final vote to legislate background checks for private and gun show sales, limits to magazine size, and provisions to keep guns from domestic abusers. None of the Colorado bills specifically pertain to laws about firearms in schools, still being debated vociferously after Colorado local laws were upheld by the courts last year.

At the same time, a surprising survey by the General Social Survey shows that the number of American households with firearms has dropped. No matter whether the comparison is between rural and suburban families, houses with children or without, happy vs. unhappy households, gun ownership has fallen by an average of 50% since the 1970’s to 2012. Indeed, households in the South and the West have shown the greatest decline.

Let’s hope that America can make a turnaround in gun control beliefs as much as education experts are looking high and low for long-term provisions to turn around the chance for student achievement. The latest is finding the most successful strategies to extend learning time.

Distinguished Schools

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

California, like many states, has an award program started in 1985, funded by prominent corporations and state education organizations. No taxpayers involved directly.

The program’s purpose is to honor schools in the state-reaching about 5% each year of the more than 900 public schools in this large state of fifty-two counties. The program recognizes exemplary schools and identifies excellent interventions used in these schools that show improvement in closing the achievement gap. In other words, the school doesn’t already have to have an Academic Performance Index (API) over 900 (out of 1000) to qualify for the award. In reality, what school has time to do all the preliminary work if the school doesn’t already have the numbers?

Look it up. The eligibility criteria for elementary schools in 2012 are consequential. If the school is lucky, the necessary scores, tables, and charts have been generated electronically. In the Bay Area, this is probable, but in some small rural district? Maybe, maybe not. Wait for the state? The county?

In this day and age, does the state think that most schools have teacher time to put all that material together and still teach the standards? Many teachers are put on the spot in March, worrying about layoff notices, upcoming tests, and improving school targets.

As much as it is necessary, closing the achievement gap does not only depend on picking the correct program. It depends on budget funding. Teachers keep teaching. They benefit and students benefit from professional development that distinguished schools can share, but money is the key.

Politicians can say all they want, but the schools that need help need infrastructure, teachers, tutors, and administrators that can oversee a new program and make sure it is implemented well over time. They don’t need less money like many call for.

If the school is honored with the California Distinguished School award that lasts four years, does that mean more money to show off its excellent programs? This blog doesn’t think so. It means only that the school can put in more time and effort for the National Blue Ribbon award.

School Starts So Soon

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

The school year has begun one week earlier than last year. San Francisco, San Jose, and my district are starting in order to cover the curriculum standards before the school days zip by and state testing looms before us.

Not that I haven’t been in school most of the summer. If one wants a Master’s degree, summer is the time to finish two more classes. I did take a vacation, but not before I wrote a literature review, synthesizing 30 peer-reviewed research articles; planned my research project for the second year of the MA program; and wrote up the project’s organization–research on how well students perform non-fiction writing when reading science and social studies books, not the textbook.

California schools received the results of the summative tests taken last spring. Our school did well, though not the highest scoring school in the district. On the Academic Performance Index (API), the state’s scoreboard, the school has maintained its 900+. Any school in the state would be overjoyed with such a score.

I’ve been reading the newspapers and it’s a good thing our school is high-performing because school budgets in California are still wobbly. The 188 low-performing schools throughout the state will be earmarked to receive any state and federal monies left in the bucket.

Those schools would benefit from the waivers that the U.S. Department of Education is offering if California shows a plan that will demonstrate progress to reach benchmarks. Friends in my MA program at San Jose State University who teach in low-performing schools are hoping the state will adjust the benchmarks. Even our school won’t reach the No Child Left Behind law’s Annual Yearly Progress scores by 2014. Already our Hispanic and African-American students are falling behind.

The San Francisco school described in the San Francisco Chronicle, August 16, 2011, article “State schools closer to making the grade” will certainly benefit from a plan to celebrate gains students have made. Wouldn’t the wise move be to provide resources to continue improvement rather than punish the school for not making benchmarks that were unrealistic to begin with?

According to the article, the students at San Francisco’s John Muir Elementary are spending the year on strategies to become good readers. My students can read well; they need to improve their ability to write non-fiction compositions. Maybe one genre for my research project can be simple persuasive essays. My students can persuade Tom Torlakson, new California Superintendent of Public Instruction, to apply for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education. Relieve the stress on students to reach unrealistic benchmarks. Every class has at least one student who would benefit from a compromise.

Same Test, Incomparable Results

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

The once-a-year test will appear on students’ desks any day now. The school day will turn topsy-turvy to accommodate testing schedules. The exam-specified amount of time to complete each section must be provided while supervising speedy high-achieving students who are bored out of their mind and waiting for more deliberate test-takers to finish.

Death Valley Academy High School

Death Valley Academy High School

In California, since the No Child Left Behind Act was legislated, the exam switched from a generic standardized type summative test (assess all that has been learned in the current year and recalled from the past).  Now, a criterion-referenced summative exam with questions that reflect the California curriculum standards taught at each grade level is the model. Note that analysis of results gives you a lot of numbers and percentages, but the school’s or student’s results tell you little more than high-performing or low-performing.

Why is that true?

Think about Death Valley Academy High School in the tiny town of Shoshone, Inyo County, California. Hot, dry climate and desert flora and fauna. Expect to see a roadrunner on occasion. Two community colleges and one all-male private college are located in the area.

Think of Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, north end of Santa Clara County, California’s Silicon Valley. Temperate weather, the remains of fruit orchards, and hills just right for cattle and mountain lions. Five universities and three community colleges are located nearby.

In 2010 on testing days, Death Valley Academy High School had a total of 35 students, grades 7-12. Seventeen students took the exam. The school wide proficiency for English/Language Arts (ELA) was 52.9%–9 students. The Math proficiency was 47.1%–8 students. Under statistical modifications for very small schools, DVHS met the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) targets and received a California Academic Performance Index (API) scale score of 766. One hundred percent of the students graduate.

Look further. With 35 students and 7 staff members, all but one or two students should be proficient. Reviews tout the one-on-one assistance provided. DVHS receives school-wide federal Title I funds, based on the income levels of the families. However, some students must take a bus 60 miles to reach school. Less than half of the parents have any college education. English, math, history is provided, Driver’s Education, Spanish, PE, and Art. There is an athletic director and a girls’ volleyball coach. No tutoring or English language assistance was listed. There are so few Hispanic or Native American students, they are not even disaggregated in the AYP data, normally a huge factor in assigning scores to call a school high- or low-performing.

In 2010, Palo Alto High had 1850 students and over 100 teachers, grades 8-12. Four hundred seventy-two students were tested and received a California API score of 896. The AYP school-wide data showed 89.8% student ELA proficiency and 90% Math proficiency. With a high number of white and Asian students whose families are well-off technology company workers and Stanford University faculty, the graduation rate is 98%. Eighty-eight percent attend 2-4 year colleges and 79% go directly to 4 year colleges.

The school has 3 counselors, a librarian, psychologist, Speech/language therapist, and 5 Resource Specialists to address the needs of the socially diverse student demographics. The website shows several schedules, 20 AP classes, daily bulletins, myriad student activities, and an email tab for parents. No wonder the school does well, even with the strained budgets in the state’s distressed fiscal climate.

How are students in a tiny out-of-the-way school in Death Valley going to compete with high-achieving, well-supported students in Silicon Valley? API and AYP numbers do little but indicate the need for help.

Rather than bicker over small sums for vouchers or tenure for a quick fix, look at demographics and geography to determine solutions.