Saturday, August 31, 2013

API Scores and Student Testing,

This week the State of California released API scores.  This annual rite has dominated focus on school performance for the past decade, with parents and homeowners looking to see how the local schools have performed, and how they stack up against surrounding districts.  LASD has fared very well in this annual "keeping up with the Joneses" race- we post some of the highest API scores in the State, and we have managed to do what some would deem unachievable- our program is consistently strong across every single school we operate.  Our community has taken great pride in this for many years.

The bar is shifting, though, and I am hopeful that it will be an improvement.  I see two problems with the current API-based system:
  1. We are already at the top of the scale, so the measures don't tell us much at an aggregate level.  Anyone with a background in statistics can tell you that the difference between 984 and 988 is insignificant.  That is where we are in the current testing process.
  2. The scores are a narrow measure of success.  The current tests measure memorization more than comprehension, and simple fact regurgitation over intellectual curiosity.  We demand much more for our kids, so it would seem logical then that we embrace a way to measure whether we are achieving that.
So, how do we make it better?  There are a few changes coming, driven at the national, state and local levels.

Most folks are aware of the roll-out of Common Core standards.  Along with most of the rest of the country, California is adopting a new set of standards for how children need to learn and what we need to teach them.  Common Core emphasizes comprehension and skills over specific memorization. The measures are geared towards ensuring students have the skills necessary to thrive in a knowledge economy.  That seems so obvious here in the Silicon Valley, but in other parts of the country, it's been a huge debate.  As an example, Common Core focuses on having students design an experiment in science over just repeating steps laid out in a text book.  This type of shift is valuable for all students, and it's something we've been focusing on at LASD for quite a while. 

At the state level, there are funding changes coming in the form of the Local Control Funding Formula.  This new bill is designed to shift the way that funds are allocated to school districts while not penalizing existing districts.  LASD will come out pretty much the same on the funding side.  However, this bill also decreases the weighting of API scores and starts to emphasize other measures that are also important indicators of success, like parental involvement and communications to the community.  Close followers of LASD will recognize many of these components from our Blueprint Process.  The District often talks about being a leader in revolutionizing learning- this is a great example.  Most of the things the state has added to the measurement system are things we specifically called out in the blueprint process several years ago.  We are, once again, leading the pack.

For those who want to go deeper on this, there's a good article in EdSource that talks about these measures in more detail.  I particularly liked their infographic:

At the local level, though, we're not content with this.  We continue to work on improved measurements.  The District has a Blueprint goal this year of identifying the next wave of measurements we want to track.  We may work with other high-achieving districts, or we may forge ahead and blaze the trail once again.  The key takeaway, though, is that we want to constantly improve our program for our students.  To do so means finding accurate ways of assessing our position, then making changes to enhance the program to continually deliver better results.

You don't get to be #1 by being satisfied with where you are.  You don't stay #1 by resting on your accomplishments.