New rankings for California’s public schools

Wonder how your school’s 2011 composite test score (a.k.a. API) measures up to those of other schools in the state, or to schools with similar demographics and challenges?

The California Department of Education released the new statewide and “similar schools” rankings today — based on tests taken more than a year ago, not this past spring.

Our data man, Danny Willis, has created this API rankings database, searchable by district and county.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • On the Fence

    Can someone give me a good explanation for why so many of Oakland’s quality public elementary schools that rank 10’s on “state rank”, sometimes quite rank so low in comparison to “similar schools” and so differently from eachother? I think I really don’t quite understand the second ranking number, particularly because I don’t understand the qualitative differences between: Chabot, Joaquin Miller (10,1); Cleveland, Crocker, Peralta (10,4); or Hillcrest, Montclair (10,7).

  • Observer

    I have had the same question or years. The only thing one can surmise is that the data spitter doesn’t know what to do with the diversity.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Basically, the state attempts to combine all the school demographic factors into a single number (I think the number has 4 or 5 digits). Everything is weighted by the effect it has historically had on test scores:
    Pupil mobility
    Pupil ethnicity (eight variables)
    Pupil socioeconomic status (two variables)
    Percentage of pupils who are English learners (ELs)
    Average class size per grade level
    Whether the school operates a multitrack year-round educational program
    Percentage of grade span enrollments (grades two, three to five, six, seven to eight, and nine to eleven)
    Percentage of students in gifted and talented education program
    Percentage of students with disabilities (SWDs)
    Percentage of reclassified fluent-English-proficient (RFEP) students
    Percentage of migrant education students

    Even under the best circumstances it would be very difficult to fairly reduce all this data into a single number. How would you weigh ethnicity vis a vis parent education level? How would you weigh an English Language Learner in the GATE program against a native English speaker who is not? Somehow the state has created a formula that they claims does this.

    Then you have the problem of misleading information in the school demographic reports. Oakland Hill schools report a huge proportion of their students in the GATE program. Piedmont schools report 0 and 2%. Oakland schools are penalized for this in computing the similar school APIs. Parent education and race are largely self reported by families, and not always reported consistently. Ethnicity descriptions are broad. All these problems make fair comparisons extremely difficult.

    Finally, the range of scores for schools with 10s on the state scores is fairly small, so a 15 or 20 point shift in API might move a school up or down several notches on the similar school rankings.

    Maybe the similar school rankings have some value for looking at schools that face significant demographic challenges. The school I worked at for my last 9 years has never placed out of the lowest category in the state wide ranking, in spite of a huge jump in API points (406 to 658), but its similar school ranking went from a 1 to a 5 over those years. Maybe that tells us something useful, maybe not; but the similar school ranks for schools in the top statewide category don’t appear useful to me. They more likely represent quirks in the scoring system than they do real differences in the schools.

  • makeitgoaway

    Actually the similar school ranking is very important- more important than the first number, because it shows what the teaching staff can do with what they have. If you are a 7-10 when compared to similarly situated school you have an effective staff at the school. the first number simply represents how rich your parent base is. Anybody can teach those kids, not so the lower socio- economic groups. A 10/5 means a mediocre staff. A 5/10 means they are doing a terrific job.

  • Catherine

    Steven: I happen to know the reason for the GATE differences have to do with the threshold – Oakland has a much lower threshold to be considered GATE than other districts. For example, depending on the student population in Oakland you could be considered GATE with a 96th percentile on the Raven’s Progressive Matrices – 99th percentile in Piedmont.

    Also, you can use 2 consecutive years’ “advanced” STAR test scores in one area. Piedmont assumes that teachers teach and students learn at advanced levels – regular, average kids – not GATE kids are able to test advanced. So they don’t count it as GATE.

    OUSD, as all school districts, gets a small stipend for every GATE student in the district. OUSD attempts to maximize the stipend even though they have abandoned the GATE department with the exception of testing. Piedmont still has a GATE department with a much smaller percentage of GATE students. OUSD approximately 9% – Piedmont approximately 2%.

  • On The Fence


    Thanks for the explanation. It is the best I’ve heard it explained to date. Still sounds like a tricky number.


    Can you use your way of looking at the second number to describe what is happening at Peralta (10,4) versus what is happening at Hillcrest (10,7)? How do their demographics and staffs factor in?

  • OUSD Parent

    I find all of this testing stuff and GATE classification information insulting. So because a child lives in Oakland s/he is placed in GATE even though his/her test scores are lower than a Piedmont kid? That’s silly especially since Oakland doesn’t have the funds to provide any real tangible programs for GATE kids. Why bother testing them then, especially if the data is inconsistent. My son’s middle school boasts a huge number of GATE students and I have yet to see anything done to challenge these kids or support their learning differences. Yet the school still boasts about it. It’s frustrating.

  • Catherine

    I was wrong about GATE:

    OUSD: 28% of students are classified as Gifted and Talented
    Piedmont: 8% GATE
    Alameda: 9% GATE
    Hayward: 7% GATE
    San Leandro 17% GATE
    Fremont: 16% GATE
    Castro Valley 11% GATE
    West Contra Costa 8% GATE
    Emeryville 0% GATE
    Berkeley: 16% GATE

    Does anyone see a problem? We have some of the lowest scores for similar socioeconomic groups and the greatest percentage of GATE students.

  • OUSD Parent

    It’s all about the money. OUSD want the meager $11 bucks per head (or something like that) from the state. It’s so disappointing and frustrating. It’s all about the money in this town.

  • Nextset

    Looks like a typical OUSD double standard where they tell average kids they’re “special”. But then I suppose in OUSD they are. Average is called a bright. It’s all relative.

    When these OUSD “Gate” kids get into a 4 year college they will probably suffer for this practice. If you look at the black drop rate at UC you can see some of that. It hurts when you are suddenly not so special at all and have not been prepared for it.

    I suppose there are arguments for and against having a statewide IQ or something standard for a student to be a GATE student.

    My beef is that it hurts people to be given false understandings about who and what they are. Especially minority students. I’ve seen the results of this first hand. And it’s been written about in books such as “Losing the Race” by McWhorter. In Universities the children of poor white out score and out perform the children of wealthy blacks (by averages). That’s a well known stat. Before people start to wring their hands they should be well aware that the children of poor Asians in the same circumstances out perform the kids of wealthy whites.

    It’s a racial thing and the raw stats do not address the issue of how large the different groups are (we have more whites) and subject matter variances (asians are not known to be champs in law school – but trump in engineering).

    So the urban educrats can play with this GATE nonsense all day. In a black school if you can read and write at 12th grade level you are a damn prodgidy. You are also likely to be maybe Nigerian or mixed (Egyptians anybody??). So to those schools such people ARE Gate. At Piedmont you’d just fit in and you are expected to read and perform at grade level. Even the Continuation School at Piedmont does so.

    It’s a Caste thing.

  • makeitgoaway

    A 10/4 means that 60% of the schools with similar demographics do better than that staff. A 10/7 means only 30% of the schools do better.

  • livegreen

    Some of the schools classified as “similar” are simply NOT. For example if one looks at some of the most diverse schools in Oakland (Peralta, Sequoia, Glenview, Kaiser) some of the schools they’re compared to are almost only one or two races.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Makeitgoaway, I agree with you that a 5, 10 score might indicate a school that is doing well. That school would have an API 75 to 100 points above the average for its demographics. However,it might also indicate a charter school that has selected, or been selected by, students not typical of their demographic groups.
    I would not agree that a 10, 5 school had a mediocre staff. The difference between a 10, 5 school and a 10,10 school in the group of schools that Peralta is compared with is only 20 points, 945 to 965. The schools are too closely bunched in terms of scores for the differences between average and the top to be significant.

  • Piedmont neighbor

    There is no GATE program in Piedmont schools, fwiw.

  • AH

    Sheesh, 28% of Oakland kids are GATE-identified and my kid is not? I’m not even sure what to think about that…

  • makeitgoaway

    Steven- although not statistically significant to you, sabermetricians would disagree, as well as the state, and I would argue administrators would get fired over a 20 point drop in many districts.

    I have always maintained that if you switched staffs for a year between Castlemont and Piedmont High, there would be no overall impact on scores at either school. This is the great fallacy of test scores when used to measure teaching.

  • Observer

    28% are identified as GATE in the same district that can barely graduate 70% of its students? You know, Oakland has significantly more charter schools per capital than other school districts in California. Combine the shallow oversight charters receives from the district plus the lowered threshold for GATE testing, well you can see where I’m going as far as the higher percentage.

    If my child tested for GATE in Oakland, I think I might find out what the Piedmont or Orinda does in order to get an honest result.

  • On The Fence

    It kind of gives credence to Nextset’s assertion that OUSD is exclusively in the business of pacification. Don’t stress the students with repressive discipline and just keep telling them they are doing better than fine, ‘gifted’, if you will.

  • Nextset

    I remember the nuns being surprised when I was in 2nd/3rd grade that I read so easily. But I remember they never repeated that surprise and just gave me more work. In public high school I was the only black in my classes for the most part. Competition was everywhere and Jews and Asians were breathing down everybody’s neck. Whites were a big majority and the school had strong tracking so the classrooms tended to be competitive with no one significantly below the class average in ability. If you didn’t keep up you were flunked out or transferred out.

    So nobody – nobody – was “special” for long. There were people who were strongest in certain subjects. The faculty kept everybody jumping and everybody challenged.

    This is the benefit of tracking. They ran us like hamsters. Lesser academic students in the same school reported their lesser classes were kept just as competitive. You could take a higher track class in one subject if that worked for you. It was mix and match for some but most stayed in a set of tracked classes for the various subjects.

    My school would never delude anyone into thinking they were special unless their performance was at the top of state norms which were constantly circulated. All of us knew how we were doing compared to Bay Area, Ca and National norms.

    The funny thing is that black relatives who recently went to other bay area high schools such as Marin tell me that’s their experience also. But now they have Iranians and many other ethnics/castes in the competitive mix The OUSD relatives tell stories comparable to what I read on this blog. It is up to the school if it wants to be a real school or not. There still are real schools elsewhere in the bay area.

    Darn right OUSD is in the business of pacification and not education. It’s products suffer for it. They are sent out into the world without the basic coaching required for proletariats to take care of themselves. And OUSD used to meet those needs, when OUSD (student body) was white.

    Save us from white liberals.

  • Ann

    Our son attends Lincoln Elementary in Oakland. Our score was 961. for the second year in a row, with 10/10! There’s a lot of homework- 4 pages a night for his kindergarten plus any work he didn’t finish in class. What they do is work hard and it shows, so don’t dismiss all of Oakland’s schools as failures.

  • Nextset

    Ann: Of course all schools in OUSD aren’t failures.

    First, elementary schools are not where the deterioration is obvious. You refer to your son’s elementary school. Don’t you get it that when we are looking at the damage being done to the middling and lower Caste students – it’s puberty and post puberty we are talking about? It’s too easy to gloss over failure in the primary levels, those kids don’t have to produce like the HS kids.

    Second – you have said little about your kid. Is he white? Is he bright?? These two groups are not what anybody is talking about on this blog. White and bright are going to be all right. They can teach themselves if they have to.

    The measure of OUSD as a school is what they do for the blacks, browns and the dulls. Decades ago it’s my hypothesis OUSD did get such students ready for military, industry and higher education. Now half the blacks drop out and most of the rest can barely read and write. I really believe OUSD can do better than that. I believe OUSD has decided not to. I suspect the reason for that decision is that pacification works better for the Educrats than fighting with the kiddies and worse, not stroking their racial egos. OUSD wants the black kids to leave with false notions of how they measure up and fantasies about what they can get in the Brave New World. These are called “Dreams”. “Dreaming” is pushed pretty hard rather than realistic planning.

    So please explain to me how you feel OUSD is going a good job with the blacks and browns. The white percentage is down to what – maybe 6% ?? Or is that the Los Angeles number (can’t find the current OUSD stat quickly). And the whites tend to be gone gone gone by high school.

    So I don’t care if OUSD seems peachy keen for a white child in the hills in primary school. This is not a reflection of the school’s quality. White schools can run themselves here (for the narrow band of white kids still in town). The test is the black schools.

    Exactly how are OUSD’s high schools doing in getting their products ready for military, industry and higher ed? And by “products” I mean to include all the kids who came into them including the eventual drop outs.

    I noticed this passage on the OUSD Wiki article:

    “During its early twentieth century history, Oakland was one of the first school districts to use the I.Q. test developed by Stanford Professor, Lewis Terman, to track its students.[1] Terman stated his view that Northern European whites were smarter than others. He placed his graduate student, Virgil Dickson, as research director of the Oakland schools, and the resulting tracking system placed most African-American and Mexican students in the lowest track classes”

    This protected the typical Black and Mexican students from competition with the typical white students. That aside, it gave you BLACK SCHOOLS and I suppose black classrooms within larger schools. Funny thing about all this is that in 2012 we still have the BLACK SCHOOLS at OUSD. But we have problems now they didn’t put up with previously in terms of deportment.

    So why are the black schools now so much more out of control and unproductive than the black schools then?

    I’m sure your son does just fine. Not even in puberty yet. Good luck with OUSD when he’s 17.

  • Ann

    Are you saying that brown and black kids CANNOT earn good grades? Lincoln is NOT in the hills, is ~95% brown with ~80% of the kids on free or reduced price lunches and 3/5 kindergartens are ESL. The school sends home grocery bags of food for the REALLY poor kids!

    Their formula of a lot of homework to reinforce the classroom learning, high parental and/or grandparental involvement supporting the teachers, and focusing on learning is what works. With an API of 961, EVERY child is mastering the material. Even the special ed students, in your words “dull” kids, earned an 847. The belief in Practice makes Perfect shows here and it works!

  • J.R.

    Nextset deals in exaggeration, he knows very well that most people(of any color)are of average intelligence. Genetics, work ethic, expectations, support, memory, cognitive ability all play roles the ability to learn, retain, and use information.

  • On The Fence


    By saying that 95 percent of the students at Lincoln Elementary are “brown”, are you saying that they are overwhelmingly Latino? What is the racial breakdown of Lincoln?

  • wiley

    Lincoln- 4 pages of homework in kinder? Is that the secret of success as defined by the 10-10 ranking? Whadda think folks? Anyone read The Case Against Homework? What could other factors be?

  • J.R.

    There is quality over quantity, but that takes a teacher who is on top of their game, and not just a babysitter. The education system as it exists now cannot and will not(because of all the stifling contract language and laws) provide a competent teacher in every classroom.

  • OUSD Parent

    I support homework as long as it’s not just busy work. Homework helps reinforce the skills learned in the classroom and teaches discipline – which is half the battle in my house.

  • J.R.

    OUSD Parent,
    I support homework under the same conditions, and I have witnessed busywork as you say which I thoroughly despise. Much of the success hinges on whether teachers follow(at least loosely)the curriculum guidelines, as I have found many teachers who deviate from curriculum too much tend to waste too much time on unimportant concepts and, or miss important concepts altogether.

  • wiley

    Seriously, how is Lincoln’s 10-10 ranking explained – given the demographics including a majority of English Language Learners? Homework? Super Star Staff? Is the school day longer? Obedient kids? Really, what is the thinking out there?

  • On The Fence


    The answer is likely demographics, a combination of nature and nurture.

  • Katy Murphy

    I asked Lincoln’s former principal, Caroline Yee, that question maybe five years ago. I still remember her response, as it seemed so straightforward: that kids came to school every day, prepared and with their homework done, and that she had an experienced, hard-working staff.

    The school also has a strong bilingual (Cantonese-English) program, which I’ve been meaning to write about for years now. (Not to be confused with a two-way language immersion program.)

    But I’m sure people at the school could speak much more knowledgeably about what makes Lincoln successful.