Monday, September 04, 2006

API

The good news is our school has improved 208 API points in the last four years. The bad news is 198 of those points came before last year. Which is an obtuse way of saying that after gains of 44 (2003), 67 (2004), and 87 (2005), we eeked out a measly 10-point gain (2006).

{Cue, explaining and rationalizing.}

I won't say at least we went up. I won't say that two new middle schools entered PI, while we exited last year and met sub-groups for the third straight year. I won't say we were predicted to drop-off after the 44, surely after the 67, absolutely after the 87, and have continued to rise. I won't say it's that grade-level or that department's issue. I won't say it's not a problem.

I will say, as a 7-8 middle school in a highly mobile community, we started each school year with less than half of the previous year's students. This made it difficult to build on the academic gains we were promoting for any length of time. Moreover, it made our school highly dependent on feeder elementaries to promote growth; while those schools have also enjoyed success, they have not improved at the same rate. That leaves us starting in very similar places every year, but needing to teach better and push kids higher to see it register as growth. In many ways, the gains from 2005 weren't 87, they were 100 points. Last year wasn't 10 points, it was 110.

I will say, we continue to do more with those students who enter our school with the fewest academic skills and lowest English fluency. There are schools with higher proficiency levels but lower API because they are not reaching those students with the greatest need. We are and we have to. Forty-nine percent of our entering 7th graders scored in the lowest two quintiles last year. Compare that to the 49% of entering students at another district middle school who scored proficient.

{Exit, explaining and rationalizing}

Maybe this is good. The fairy tale ride of newspaper articles, editorials, and local TV broadcasts is over. Fine. Let's go be just another school, engaged in the business of teaching and learning, the long, hard climb to 800, the longer climb to every kid graduating as a redesignated ELL, armed with the skills to make it in high school. Let's stop being recognized as a place that went from truly terrible to mediocre. The next time the newspapers and conference-promoters come calling, make it because we defied the next myth, the one that goes like this: Of course this community could be better... but a great school? like in Cupertino? or Marin? I don't know about that. Deep down, where it matters, I don't know about that.

Let us defy that myth, even if it is 10 points at a time.

2 Comments:

Blogger KC said...

Endless, lifelong improvement is some sort of American DNA--and I admire the no-excuses posture. Keep the expectations high and the struggle in the forefront. But in a normalized statistical measure like the API, endless improvement ain't technically possible.

The other factoid is that one year's Base API is only comparable to that year's Growth target. It is not valid to compare API scores year over year. The regression and the values regressed change as the API changes. It aint meaningful to compare two years running, much less three or four.

But what I'm really wondering about...

Is there any notion of an error bar in the API "measurement"? Has anyone looked at the variability of the test results to come up with some estimate of statistical error? Moods fluctuate, sicknesses happen, some schools deal with more student mobility than others... it should be possible to state API results like 688+/-5. It would be totally relevant in your case to know that.

Sorry to rain nerdiness on your Rocky Balboa vibe...

10:04 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

KC,

You're right, of course, and no need to apologize. I like the idea of an error bar. I think we kind of have a +/- 5 (or maybe even 10) when looking at scaled scores of individual students, but this is just a site-specific understanding.

Another thing with the API is that not all growths are created equal. Going up 100 points when you're at 400, is a lot easier than when you're at 800. Y'know?

That, and we rarely see growth from individual schools or Districts compared forcibly to state growth. My District is all a-flutter at their growth, over the last four years, but it's relative when compared to overall state growth. We're barely keeping up with the Jonses, much less the Nguyen's. Not that anyone will admit this, or acknowledge the need for reform.

I also wrote about this because I've trumpeted and celebrated large growth in this space before, and it'd be somewhat disingenuous to ignore recent developments because they aren't as large or extensive.

2:15 PM  

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