API Scores Show Growth for State, Berkeley Schools

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday May 21, 2009 - 04:30:00 PM

Although the 2008 Base Academic Performance Index (API) report released Thursday shows progress for California’s public schools, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell warned that the mounting budget cuts to education could be a major threat to improving student achievement. 

The 2008 Base API takes into account results from spring 2008 testing, mainly the California Standardized Tests (STAR) and the California High School Exit Exam. The 2008 results form the baseline against which the 2009 Growth API—due Sept. 2—is compared. 

Areas tested include English, math and the social sciences. 

This year’s Base API includes public school rankings ranging from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest), which will help parents see how their child’s school is doing in comparison to similar schools statewide. 

API scores are on a scale of 200 to 1,000, and the state Department of Education asks schools to perform at a level of 800. 

Forty percent of California public elementary schools are at or above the state requirement, up 3.3 percentage points from 2007, according to the state education department website. 

Thirty percent of state middle schools are meeting or exceeding the performance target, an increase of 5.7 percentage points over last year. Seventeen percent of high schools meet or exceed the target, a gain of 2.8 percentage points over 2007. 

Schools in the Berkeley Unified School District seem to have met or are well on their way to meeting the state’s performance target, with six of the district’s 11 elementary schools exceeding the mark. 

Cragmont, Emerson, Jefferson, John Muir, Oxford and Malcolm X have already met the statewide performance target of 800 and did not receive a growth target. 

State Department of Education spokesperson Tina Jung said that although this was good news, the state always encourages schools to perform even better. Jung said some schools receive the maximum score of 1,000. 

Of the remaining four elementary schools, Berkeley Arts Magnet is only four points behind the statewide performance target and LeConte, Rosa Parks, Thousand Oaks and Washington elementary schools are each five points behind. 

All three middle schools—Longfellow, King and Willard—showed considerable progress toward reaching their state performance targets, each school falling behind by five points. 

For the third year in a row, according to the state education department website, Berkeley High School did not receive a Base API score because of low student participation. 

District Superintendent Bill Huyett was out of town Thursday and could not be reached for comment. 

Richard Ng, assistant to Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp, said the school did not have information on the participation rates yet. 

Increasing student participation for the STAR tests has been a long-standing problem at Berkeley High, and district officials and educators have yet to find a solution. Student can—and often do—opt out of the standardized tests by bringing a note from parents. 

Rio Bauce, a recent Berkeley High graduate who is currently attending Pitzer College, said students often avoid taking these tests because they think of them as “boring” or “stupid.” 

“When I was at BHS, many students thought that the STAR tests were as important and less exciting than a student survey,”said Bauce, who occasionally writes for the Daily Planet. “One category of students don't take them because they feel that they are boring and unimportant for their own individual success. Another category sees the STAR test exemption as a week of no school. Either making these tests mandatory or offering incentives to taking them are the only ways to improve the past couple years of low participation at BHS.” 

Berkeley Technology Academy, the district’s only public continuation school, shows a 2008 Base API score of 596, which is 10 points less than the 2009 API target the state has set for it. 

The state education department website warns that because B-Tech’s API score was based on the participation of a small number of students (23), it might be less reliable. 

B-Tech received a statewide ranking of 1 last year, which places it in the bottom 10 percent of all schools of its type, Jung said. 

O’Connell singled out elementary schools for their “spectacular progress.” Although he was pleased that California schools were meeting the high expectations set for them every year, he stressed it was important to sustain the momentum. 

“This kind of progress happens only through the hard work and focus of dedicated school staff, parents, and students,” he said. “However, I worry that these real gains in student achievement are in serious jeopardy because funding for our public school system is in serious danger,” he told reporters during a teleconference after making the report public. “What kind of education will we be able to offer next year and the year after that with the kind of drastic and unprecedented cuts now under consideration?" 

O’Connell noted that the report pointed out a persistent achievement gap between African-American and Latino students and their peers. 

“When we examine the achievement gap, the truth again is in the numbers,” he said, adding that 70 percent of California public schools were made up of a majority of African-American and Latino students who were lagging behind their peers. 

“We cannot afford to leave a majority of our students behind,” he said. “In fact we can’t afford to leave any of our students behind.” He said that an antidote to closing the glaring gap between low- and high-achieving students was to create “culturally dynamic classrooms” and focus on collecting academic data. 

O’Connell said that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to cut $1.4 billion in the last month of the current school year and another $2.3 billion when school starts in the fall could mean larger class sizes, fewer nurses and librarians and another round of teacher layoffs. 

“Schools will be doing all they can to keep the lights on and the doors open,” he said. “It will take a major budget reform to get us back on the right track.” 

The 2008 Base API reports, including school rankings and growth targets are posted on the API Web Page at www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ap/apireports.asp.