Tuesday, September 15, 2009

California schools both improving and failing

A story in yesterday's Chronicle:
This is one of those good news-bad news school stories.

The good news is that more California schools are clearing the state's bar using a measuring stick that includes standardized tests and graduation rates, according to a barrage of data released today.

The bad news is that by federal standards more state schools are failing.

That contradiction stems from looking at the same statistics different ways - in short, the state cares about progress while the feds care about the finish line.

"We learn different things from the state and federal measures; however, the two systems of accountability can often send conflicting messages to educators and parents," said state Superintendent Jack O'Connell in a statement.

The state system, the Academic Performance Index (API), uses a complex formula to calculate academic progress on a scale of 200 to 1,000, with the goal being 800.

This year, 42 percent of the state's 10,000 schools hit 800, up from 36 percent last year. The federal system, called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), cares only about the percent of students who test proficient in math and English - a bar that rises every year. For 2009, about 45 percent of students needed to reach proficiency for a school to pass muster.

This year, 51 percent of the state's school met that federal target, down one point from last year.

Failing to clear the state's bar isn't good for a school. Failing to clear the national bar is worse.

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