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Senate Bill Moves API Away From Standardized Tests

Gov. Jerry Brown approves Senate Bill 1458, which will require 40 percent of the API to be determined by measures that indicate college and career readiness.

Senate Bill 1458, which will shift California’s chief measure of a high school’s performance from a focus solely on state test scores to a broader gauge of student accomplishment and preparation for college and the work world, is now law.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2012. Its sponsor, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, predicted in a press release that the bill “will prove to be one of the most significant education reform bills of the decade.”

Starting in 2016, test results of the California Standards Tests will comprise no more than 60 percent of a high school’s Academic Performance Index, or API, the three-digit score that has become such a big part of a school’s identity.

Existing law provides that pupil scores from certain standards-based achievement tests and the high school exit examination be incorporated into the API, as specified. Under existing law, the results of these tests constitute at least 60 percent of the value of the index.

“While we still need to learn more about how this will new legislation will be enacted, we are encouraged that the State is looking more broadly at student success,” said Elizabeth Schuck, assistant superintendent for Cabrillo Unified School District in Half Moon Bay. “Multiple measures of student achievement provide a much deeper and more accurate picture of a school's success.”

SB 1458 doesn’t dictate what the other elements comprising the 40 percent (or more) will be; the bill leaves that up to the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to determine.

But it does make clear that those measures should reflect success in preparing students for higher education and the workplace. Steinberg has said these elements might include high school and middle school graduation and dropout rates, or factors such as the proportion of students who pass Advanced Placement exams, are eligible for a four-year state university (complete the A-G course requirements), graduate without need for college remediation in English and math, or have completed a Partnership Academy program in a career pathway and qualified for college credit in that area.

State tests would comprise at least 60 percent of an API score for middle and elementary schools under the bill. However, science and history, which currently are given little weight — science is tested only in fifth and eight grades — would have more emphasis. State Supt. Tom Torlakson would report to the Legislature next year on how that could be done.

The bill also includes an option that formal school inspections or visitations that would observe quality of teaching and take the pulse of less tangible qualities of a school: ties to the community, parental involvement, extracurricular life, and the overall school culture.

Torlakson would be authorized to establish school inspections if money is made available, shifting the burden back to Brown to make room in the state budget for them.

In addition, the bill instructs Torlakson to make recommendations a year from now on ways to replace the system that ranks schools by deciles and compares them with other schools with similar student demographics. This determines which schools are eligible for various state and federal programs and which should face academic sanctions.

Still, SB 1458 comes at a time when schools “are just beginning the transition to the new Common Core State Standards, which are based on college and career readiness goals,” said Schuck.

She’s referring to the state transitioning to the Common Core standards in math and English language arts, with new standardized tests that are two years away. The state will also adopt new science standards, with assessments that have yet to be written.

In November, the California Department of Education will report to the Legislature that standardized tests should be eliminated and which should be elevated in importance, such as science. Those recommendations could affect the composition of the API under Steinberg’s bill. With so much in flux, SB 1458 gives Torlakson and the state Board four years to institute changes to the API.

“The inclusion of college and career readiness goals are a positive step forward because they relate to what students need to know and beyond their high school experience,” said Schuck.

Senate Bill 1458 will impact all of our schools. Do you support the change? Do you think it's possible to gauge a student's college and career readiness?

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George Muteff October 10, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Maybe it's me, but what I see here is a typical political move: pass look good, feel good legislation that does not focus on the real issue facing our public schools - funding and the discriminatory formula the State uses for it that clearly makes some students more economically important than others throughout the State. If one has a problem, the best way to address it is attack the root of the problem - which IMHO is the way the State funds our youth. Valuing each student equally throughout the State would be a good start. Then gear the curriculum to their needs for the "real world" and fund it accordingly. When I see comments like, “Multiple measures of student achievement provide a much deeper and more accurate picture of a school's success.” - I can't help but wonder why administrators don't see that student success is the Brass Ring, not "a school's success". If the students were equally funded, that would provide a good and measurable base to start from. A "school's success" should be determined by the success of its students. The better the students do, the better the schools look. Does changing the API testing change the quality or level of the education our kids get, or just the way we see school results?
Jo Tog October 10, 2012 at 11:00 PM
"valuing each student equally throughout the state" no way. Done with that way of thinking. No one is equal, but we do have the unalienable eual rights to achieve. Whether you are rich or poor, if you are a extreme bright student you should be valued on your genius level, not held back with the average student.
Christa Bigue (Editor) October 10, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Tough question, George. Changing the API testing could very well do both: change the quality or level of the education our kids get AND the way we see school results. Test results can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom, but they don't tell you everything about the quality of a school or the education the kids are getting at that school. Parents/students should always look at more than one measure when judging a school performance before making any final determination as to whether or not they should attend just like universities should look at more than one measure beyond test scores when determining whether or not to accept a potential student.

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