Friday, August 19, 2005

California Academic Performance Index (API)

The California 2004 API scores came out this week. The API is a measure of student performance in English, math, science, and related subjects. The scores are reported by county, district, and school, and even includes charter schools. The scores run between 200 and 1,000, with 800 being the target.

The API has become the primary yardstick for school performance since passage of the Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999. Each summer parents, teachers, and administrators wait anxiously for the scores to come out as so much is riding on the results. There are people who have sold their homes in one lower-performing district an bought another in a district with better API scores. New people moving in to an area often base their buying decisions on API scores. I suspect that teachers and administrators have been promoted or demoted based on their school or district's API rise or fall.

The scores are very easy reading, and most people assume that a school with low scores has bad teachers and/or administrators. But looking more deeply into the API report one can see that there is far more than meets the eye, and many schools and school employees have no doubt been unfairly judged as a result of not looking beyond the obvious. Digging just a little deeper into the report, results are listed by race. Reviewing the data by race suggests that something other than schools, teachers, and curriculum may be to blame for poor performance. By no means am I suggesting that one race is inherently smarter; I believe the source of the difference by race is the type of support that many kids at home.

Take San Diego County schools, since that is where I live and have the most familiarity. When an individual school is picked at random from the list linked above, a breakdown by race is shown. The Encinitas school district is in a fairly affluent coastal city of northern San Diego County. Capri Elementary has about an even mix of White and Latino students, but their scores are quite different. Whites scored 855 whereas Latinos scored 649. At a similar school in the same district, Park Dale Lane Elementary, whites outnumber Latinos by more than 3.5:1, and score 865 to Latinos 694. [Note: "Socioeconomically Disadvantaged" is defined as children of parents who both have not finished highschool, and/or participate in the school lunch program. Race is not a factor.]

So given the mix of students, Capri's overall API is a respectable yet below target 759, whereas Park Dale Lane scores an above-target 833. Most people who follow the API scores would rather send their kids to Park Dale Lane, of course, because it scored better. However, given the fact that the White students at Capri scored nearly identical to the White students at Park Dale Lane, a successful argument cannot be made that the school, the administrators, and the teachers are not adequately teaching their students. Click around some of the other schools, and you will find similar results almost everywhere. It is also interesting to note that when the racial breakdown is studied by district, where the samples are large enough, that is, Asian children seem to easily score the best. In the Encinitas district, Asian's cored 950, to White's 891, to Latino's 676.

Why though? What is the reason for the better scores of the White students? I don't for a second think that Latinos are in any way 'not as smart' as Whites. I work with many Latinos, I have many Latino friends, I married a Latina, my children are Latino, as are, of course, my in-laws. Latinos are smart, caring, hard working, happy people, and I am proud to have become part of the Latino culture. So if 'smarts' is not the answer, what is it? Why don't Latinos score higher as a group?

I believe that the reason is their parents. Many of them are first or second generation immigrants, and language is a big problem for them. They have not fully assimilated into American society, and often live each day speaking only Spanish. They watch Spanish TV, listen to Spanish radio, and read Spanish newspapers, and then when their kids come home they can't help them with their homework. Because of the schools, fortunately, the kids speak perfect English, but at home they must speak Spanish. This is not alway the case, of course, but seems to be the rule more often than not.

There also is the feeling among some parents, and this cuts across all races, is that educating children is the job of the schools, and parents don't think they have to do their part. But lets face it, education at the primary and secondary level is like a three-legged stool, where schools, students, and parents are each one leg. If one of the legs doesn't hold up its weight, the stool will fall over.

Can schools and teachers do a better job? I'm sure they would be the first to say "yes", and I believe they try to do so everyday. But we as parents MUST do a better job of helping our childen learn by helping, challenging, and nurturing their intellectual development.

This post also appears on Blogger News Network.

1 comment:

helenowen said...

Dear James, I am a retired educator down here in Texas and we have been burdened with these tests ever since about l984 or 85. I would still be a classroom teacher had it not been for insanity to take over Texas schools down here. You are absolutely right. It is language as the barrier and parents need to become more involved in their children and schools . The price is too high for them now , to not pass these horrid tests. I am , for one, against taking these tests, because it pits child against child, teacher against teacher, district against district, parent against parents, the list could go on and on and on. I am now happy to be outside of this for the time being. I teach teachers how to teach at one of the alternative certification companies down here and I tell you, these ladies I work for are making money hand over fist. All because stupid bureaucrats , educrats and politicians who have NEVER darkended the door of a classroom and taught, are getting the last word. It is money, my man driving this issue. God bless you in getting out the truth. Helen