State must reveal, not conceal, school aptitude

Lance Izumi:

This year marks the 10th anniversary of California’s Public Schools Accountability Act, an early legislative triumph of then-Gov. Gray Davis. While some good things have come out of the law, the act has failed in its two key missions: to inform parents and the public about the true performance of schools and students, and to impose widespread tough consequences on failing or underperforming schools.
In contrast to funding-focused measures, such as Proposition 98, the act commendably sought to spotlight school and student outcomes, especially results on the state’s standardized tests. While many educators complain about this emphasis on student testing, the real problem turned out to be how the act uses test scores to measure school performance.
The act uses the Academic Performance Index, or API, to measure the performance of schools. Based on student results on the state’s California Standards Tests, the API calculates a score on a scale of 200 to 1,000 for every school, with the state designating 800 as the target to which all schools should strive to achieve.