So here’s the skinny. The Academic Performance Index (API) compiles scores out of a possible 1000 points). Any school that rates over 800 is considered by the CDE to be a “high performing school.” Davis not surprising has had every school in the district achieve in that range.
Does that make a lot of sense? The Enterprise reported on Tuesday that the Montgomery did not meet all of the new benchmarks under the NCLB specifically student proficiency percentages for Hispanic students, low SES students, and English learners.
The Enterprise explained in Tuesday’s paper that even schools with rankings over 800 are given bench marks that they must hit and show steady improvement in test schools. One can of course debate whether it is practical or even possible for high achieving schools to hit continual growth targets.
Explained Assistant Superintendent Clark Bryant:
“Even when we demonstrate increased (student) proficiency … in some cases it may not keep pace with the rising expectations of NCLB.”
So at Montgomery while the number of English Learner students who were proficient increased at a higher rate than the subgroup population itself grew, it was unable to grow fast enough to meet the new bench mark.
As we learned from an article back in December of 2008, the the targets for English-proficiency go up and they go up fast. So in 2006-07 that number was 22.3 percent of the students–a standard that most California high schools met and DJUSD exceeded by plenty. However the growth rate goes up fast and to levels that appear to be completely unrealistic.
By 2007-08 the expectionat was 33.4 percent proficient, for 2008-09, 44.5 percent proficient. By 2011-12, the number reaches 77.8, then 88.9 and then in the final year, it calls for 100 percent of high school students to be proficient in English-language arts–where no one can flunk and no one can drop out.
I want high achievement as much as the next one, but the idea that we can obtain 100% is ludicrous. The idea that we can obtain those kinds of score increases over a five year period is ludicrous. And that doesn’t even take into account the economic and fiscal realities.
Those that do not reach these requirements over a period of time go into the category “Program Improvement”–a program that is extremely controversial.
As the Enterprise reported in December:
“The long list of benchmarks each district must meet under NCLB creates plenty of opportunities for a school district to run afoul of expectations. Even a high-scoring district like Davis, in which all schools are considered “high performing” by the state, with a ranking of 800 or higher in the state’s Academic Performance Index, is likely to run into problems with NCLB in the next few years.”
And now Montgomery is in that category despite being the in the high achieving category for five years in a row. Such things make little sense and the sense is that by 2014 more and more schools will go into Program Improvement status in Davis and elsewhere. What that means remains to be seen at this point. But clearly something is amiss in a measurement system that would put that kind of burden on high achieving school districts.
Achievement Gap Grows in Davis
“The API results also show a slight narrowing of the achievement gap that historically has left Hispanic or Latino and African American students trailing behind their peers who are white or Asian. I am delighted to see this trend of progress continue.”
More important than perhaps closing the gap, all students improved on their scores at the state level.
According to a release from CDE and Superintendent O’Connell:
“The 2009 API report shows that all student subgroups statewide demonstrated improvement between 11 and 15 points. African American, Hispanic or Latino, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students increased their API this year by 15 points, while the API of white students increased by 14 percentage points and the statewide increase for all students was 14 points. Despite this slight narrowing between subgroups, white, and Asian students continue to have significantly higher API scores, a major indicator of the achievement gaps that persist in California schools.”
However, in Davis the news was less good as not only did the gap widen but the the gap widened because of falling scores.
According to the Enterprise, the API for African-American students fell by 8 points to 753, for Hispanic students it fell by 10 points to 734, for SES disadvantaged students it fell by 11 points to 714, and for English Learners it fell by 17 points to 737. Meanwhile Asian Students’ API rose to 939 and white students rose to 894.
A few years ago closing the Achievement Gap was one of the top priorities for the district. I don’t want to suggest that these efforts fell by the wayside as a result of the fiscal crisis, but it seems obvious that the fiscal crisis had to have more immediate attention. Moreover economic cuts are likely to hurt those students at greater risk first and more severely. Given that, it is somewhat surprising to see that the achievement gap shrunk slightly and scores rose modestly at the state level.
In May, the Vanguard had asked Superintendent what he would rather be working on rather than the budget crisis, his response was telling:
“I would rather be working on ways to develop more instructional practices at every site for kids that are not achieving at grade level—particularly for Hispanic/ Latino children or African-American children who traditionally don’t score as well on our STAR assessments. I wish I had more time to focus on the instructional leadership and best practices and provide more embedded professional development for teachers and classified staff to support students slipping through the cracks.”
As we might surmise, if students are falling through the cracks in a relatively wealthy district that while it has not gone through economic crisis unscathed, but has weathered the storm better than other districts, what is likely to happen in many of the poorer districts?
Overall, while I certainly understand the need for high performing schools to improve, from my standpoint if the district is going to focus its limited resources it ought to be focused on the achievement gap rather than the fact that Montgomery went from one level to a slightly lower level but still in the high performance category. The system is not set up well for this however.
—David M. Greenwald reporting