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A closer look at Academic Performance Index scores in Contra Costa County districts

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, August 30th, 2013 at 7:21 pm in Contra Costa County, Education, Liberty district, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakley district, Paul Burgarino, Pittsburg school district, Rowena Coetsee.

Students work quietly in a Richmond College Prep classroom. The school received an API score of 828 this year, soaring 33 points.

Students work quietly in a Richmond College Prep classroom. The school received an API score of 828 this year, soaring 33 points.

When it comes to test scores, the Academic Performance Index, or API, is considered by many to be the most important rating a California school receives. Based on standardized tests scores taken by students in grades 2-11 in the spring, the API is a composite number between a low of 200 and a high of 1,000 that shows how schools throughout the state compare to each other.

Since the scoring system was created, schools and districts have tried to reach a score of 800, considered by the state to mean most students are working at grade level. This year, 11 Contra Costa County districts achieved this goal.

But the federal government’s No Child Left Behind law measures schools according to a harder-to-reach bar. This year, 90 percent of students were required to score proficient on math and English language arts tests to meet this standard.

Those who fail to meet the standard for two years in a row are placed in federal Program Improvement and required to implement interventions. This year, 10 Contra Costa districts were in Program Improvement.

Here’s a side by side comparison of county district API scores in 2012 and 2013, showing growth or decline:

DISTRICT 2013 2012 CHANGE PROGRAM IMPROVEMENT
Acalanes 904 908 -4 No
Antioch 740 746 -6 Yes
Brentwood 861 859 +2 Yes
Byron 846 836 +10 No
Canyon 874 876 -2 No
John Swett 745 751 -6 Yes
Knightsen 816 840 -24 No
Lafayette 934 938 -4 No
Liberty 794 785 +9 No
Martinez 836 844 -8 Yes
Moraga 955 964 -9 No
Mt. Diablo 791 794 -3 Yes
Oakley 799 816 -17 Yes
Orinda 958 967 -9 No
Pittsburg 733 738 -5 Yes
San Ramon 923 928 -5 Yes
Walnut Creek 906 915 -9 Yes
West Contra Costa 717 715 +2 Yes
CALIFORNIA 789 791 -2 N/A

Districts that failed to meet the state API score of 800 were Antioch, John Swett, Liberty, Mt. Diablo, Oakley, Pittsburg and West Contra Costa. Stephanie Anello, associate superintendent of educational services in Antioch, said the district’s dip in scores came as a surprise, after teachers had been assessing students every six weeks throughout the year and principals increased classroom observations.

“It’s very disappointing, we felt we were headed in the right direction,” she said. “We’re trying to look for patterns to see what happened, but we don’t see one. For now, we are just going to have to use it to strengthen our resolve and focus on the quality of teaching that happens every single day.”

No schools in the John Swett district surpassed the state’s target of 800. In the Liberty district, one of four comprehensive high schools met that goal.

Mt. Diablo’s API score dropped three points to 791. Interim Superintendent John Bernard sent a message to the community saying the district is continuing to train teachers and administrators in the new Common Core curriculum standards, which focus on critical thinking and problem-solving.

Oakley’s API score dropped 17 points and nearly all schools in the district also saw double-digit declines, with the exception of Vintage Parkway Elementary, which posted a 14-point gain to 831. Anne Allen, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, said the district has assigned a second teacher to work as a full-time math coach at elementary grades and another to serve as a part-time middle school literacy coach.

The Pittsburg district’s score fell five points to 733, with only three of 12 comprehensive schools reaching the state’s proficiency target. The West Contra Costa district was one of four in the county to improve its API score, rising two points to 717.

“We’re happy to show improvement,” said Nia Raschidchi, assistant superintendent of educational services.

Here’s a link to the Contra Costa Times’ searchable database of API scores for all schools and districts in the state: http://www.contracostatimes.com/data/ci_23965432/2013-school-ratings?source=pkg

Staff writers Paul Burgarino and Rowena Coetseee contributed to this report.

What do you think lower-performing districts should do to improve student achievement?

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  • Giorgio C.

    Today, I received the following feedback from my wife’s friend who is a Senior Researcher with WestEd, in response to my query about Ohlone Elementary School (Hercules) dropping 41 points. I am pretty bummed, now looking at private schools for my daughter’s future elementary school. Here is the expert opinion of this researcher. I have many questions for her.

    “I’m sorry to say, but in my opinion this is a weak school. It seems like it has some good features: relatively small overall size and limited reported behavioral infractions. Only about half of the students are reaching proficiency in any of the core academics. The usual suspects are doing very poorly, but the the more advantaged pops (usually white students) are also doing poorly, dragged down by SES. Honestly, I’d be less worried that API went down last year than the overall pattern over many years, which is a profile of a weak school. It has had a statewide API of 5 (10 is highest performing and 1 is lowest performing, based solely on test scores), but it has an API of 2 or 3 when compared to 100 demographically similar schools. This means that relative to other schools with the SAME student pop it’s doing considerably worse. That says to me that despite the demographic make up of the students (SES and other dis/advantages) this school isn’t performing optimally.”

  • Giorgio C.

    Regarding comment #51, I want to make it clear that the opinion they provided about Ohlone was that of the commenter alone, not as someone representing WestEd. They were not acting in any official capacity when they provided this comment.

  • Wondering

    Heather, you are correct that the students get a pass/fail grade on the exit exam. Clayton Valley has always had a very high pass rate, above 90%. But it looks like the state is analyzing the data more closely and calculating what percentage score “proficient or above”, which a different standard (a higher standard) than “pass/fail”. The percentages that meet that standard are much lower than the pass rate. It’s the “proficient or above” rate that’s used to calculate if a school meets the standard for adequate yearly progress. I had no idea where the AYP numbers came from until I clicked on the links Theresa provided and read the explanations.

    I would have expected “proficient or above” percentages from the exit exam to rise in tandem with the STAR test results, but they didn’t. They were flat. If there was a general rise in achievement, a higher percentage should have scored “proficient or above”. I think the exit exam “proficient or above” numbers are a better indicator of student/school progress because students take the test seriously as they know they have to pass it to graduate. We know many students didn’t take the STAR test seriously in the past because the results didn’t affect them at all. The fact that CV’s rise in STAR results is not confirmed by the AYP numbers makes me wonder if the rise in STAR numbers is largely the result of CVCHS having found a way to motivate students to take the test seriously rather than an indication that students are learning more.

  • mtzman

    @Been Down That Road #50, I got tired just reading that list. Sounds like the CVCHS teachers and staff know what they’re doing, are working very hard, and, most importantly, are achieving results.

  • Theresa Harrington

    Giorgio: It’s interesting that this person put so much weight into the decile rankings and same school rankings. At Wednesday’s SBE meeting, there was discussion about eliminating such rankings.

  • Public School Parent

    Georgio, I recommend that you visit Ohlone and see for yourself what it’s like. Don’t assume that a private school is always better. I assumed that the public schools where I live weren’t any good and put my children into a private school. Due to financial reasons, I had to move them to the public school after a few years. I found that my oldest child was behind academically after 3 years in a private school. The public school teachers have to stick to established curriculum standards. Private schools don’t. Public schools will tell you the truth about how your child is doing. Private schools sometimes tell you what you want to hear because they need your tuition money. The teachers were better in the public school, too. At least that was my experience with public vs. private school.

    I had a friend who moved her children from a different private school to our neighborhood school. After experiencing both, she was sorry she wasted her money on private schools. Her child had struggled academically in two different private school and the schools didn’t know how to help him. In public school they recognized that he might have a learning disability, had a psychologist test him, and came up with a simple solution that allowed him to thrive academically. Public schools have resources that private schools often don’t.

  • Giorgio C.

    @56Public School Parent,
    I appreciate your comments. I do want to make it work with Ohlone because they now have a new principal who might just be what the doctor ordered. The previous principal was there for one year. I attended one School Site Council meeting last year which was rushed. She did not hold these meetings regularly and they were very short in length (20 to 30 minutes) compared to other schools in our city (1 to 2 hours), so this caused me some concern. They were usually held at 2:30 in the afternoon, so working parents couldn’t attend.

    Our schools need to realize that working parents already miss a lot of work as it is as a result of a child’s illness and all of the vacations and minimum days, so why not hold the SSC meetings at the end of the day or evenings like some other schools do? Parents are asked to get involved, but this can’t happen if our schools don’t make involvement more accessible.

    There are some folks at Ohlone who are fighting hard for the school, including the past-President of the PTA and a couple of folks who are leading a literacy program. Still, I did have an Ohlone teacher tell me not to bring my daughter there. She said it wasn’t the school, but the other less motivated kids, who posed a threat to my daughter’s education.

    Thanks for the additional info about private schools. I’ll do my best to make it work with Ohlone, assuming they have a good year this year.

  • Giorgio C.

    #55Theresa,
    Maybe the SBE wants to do away with these other metrics of school assessment because seeing the truth further harms the reputation of our public education system.

  • Wondering

    Been Down That Road #50, Perhaps I’m not as impressed with that list as you are because my children graduated from CVHS shortly before it became a charter.

    When I look at hat list and see “Posting grades for parent support”, I remember that MDUSD had the Homelink system that did exactly that. Yet my children had teachers at CVHS who refused to use it. Apparently neither the principal nor the district has any way to force a unionized teacher to do anything they don’t want to do.

    When I see “Posting assignments on teacher web pages”, I remember that one CVHS principal tried to require teachers to post homework assignments online so that parents could make sure their children did their homework. Some did it, some did it for a while and then stopped, one teacher did it but complained to me that it was a waste of time, and some refused to do it at all.

    When I see “Administrators in classrooms-provide feedback”, I say “Good luck”. When my children were at CVHS, if the vice-principal entered a classroom he would like be greeted by an angry teacher yelling “Get out of my classroom!”, right in front of the students. Then the teacher would proceed to tell the students how little he thought of that administrtor. My son thought that was just hysterical when it happened.

    When I see “Writing focus in all subject”, I know that my students always had writing assignments in art and music classes. That’s nothing new.

    When I see, “Bell to bell instruction” and “High expectations are key”, I think “Well, duh!” Why haven’t teachers been doing that all along?

    When I see “Tutoring program” I know that “Saturday school” has been around for years, that lists of peer tutors ave been around for years, and many teachers made themselves available to students at lunch and after school. But I also know that many did not. I know of one CVHSvparent who came home from a Back-To- School night very discourage because her son’s math teacher told that parents that they should not expect her to help their children after school and to hire a tutor if they need help. I know there has never been anything stopping teachers from helping students after school or coming together to organize tutoring sessions for their departments.

    When I see “Failure Free Zone”, I have to wonder why CVCHS recently adopted a policy that says they’ll kick out truant students. Have they decided to give up on the more difficult students now that they have a waiting list of students (and the funding that comes with them) to take their place?

    I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

  • Been Down That Road….

    Wondering #59
    Thank you for driving my points home! As I said–there isn’t anything that CVCHS did that any other school school couldn’t do. The key difference in what’s happening now and what happened in the past is a marked shift in school culture. And culture trumps strategy every time. If you don’t have the leadership to turn the culture around, you’re not going to get the buy-in you need from ALL stakeholders….students, parents, teachers and the community. I’m not sure why you’re so distrustful of something good that’s happening in our community…it seems we are all long-overdue. And I don’t need an explanation why you’re so distrustful. There are just some people that are “glass-half-empty” kinds of people. I can accept that. Just please don’t put half-truths, misconceptions and blatant lies out in the guise of “Wondering”.

  • Carroll

    Wondering #59

    Your post based on your experiences with CVHS show how badly the school needed effective leadership. It sounds like teachers and administrators were not on the same page and were not working together for common goals. Perhaps the charter has helped fix that.

    My child attended another district school and we did not experience the problems you mentioned. The leadership at the school seemed fairly effective and worked well with the teachers. It was the schools policy for the teachers to use homelink, and they updated it daily. It was a very effective way of allowing parents to be involved in monitoring their children’s progress.

  • Giorgio C.

    The teachers unions need to see charters as being analogous to shipping auto manufacturing jobs overseas. In this economic climate, workers can be easily taken advantage of. The unions should be doing nothing more than protecting employees from real harm and abuse and also fighting for a fair wage. They should not be dictating policy to the administration. By doing this, how will anyone know who to hold accountable? Without a clear chain-of-command, parents/taxpayers will throw up their arms and embrace charters, sending their children overseas. The unions need to take it down quite a few notches.

    My words often have people calling me anti-labor. Quite the contrary. I’m a working class employee who is very worried about what tomorrow will bring, as if today isn’t bad enough. I’d like to see the unions play a greater role in bringing real trust and accountability to our public schools. Can they do it? What would the administrators think if one day the teachers unions simply said “We will do as we are told. Nothing more.” That should scare the carp out of many administrators. Accountability would be clear as day.

  • Doctor J

    Here is how 27 schools in California cheated on the STAR tests and lost their API rating — click on the name of the district and the actual irregularity report will link. I think the closest district to MDUSD was in Union City — New Haven. http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-adv-test-cheating-list-of-districts-20130924,0,3439028.story

  • hannahlucy07