Sunday, May 8, 2011

New State Rankings Released for California Schools

The following information is from Click here for complete story. Use the pull down menus on the web page to get API scores, State Rank, and Similar Schools Rank for California schools.

Interpretation of rankings: California public school rankings, which are released each spring, range from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. The rankings are evenly distributed by school level; in other words, 10 percent of elementary schools in California earn a 1, and 10 percent earn a 10. Statewide rankings are based purely on test scores (the Academic Performance Index, or API). "Similar schools" rankings compare the scores of each school to those of 99 others with similar demographic profiles.

In some districts -- including Albany, Castro Valley, Dublin, Pleasanton and Piedmont in Alameda County and Acalanes Union, Lafayette, Moraga and San Ramon in Contra Costa County -- every school was ranked in the top half of the statewide heap, with a 6 or higher.

Similar school (SS) rankings for SFUSD middle schools are very interesting:

SS Ranking 10: Roosevelt (API 864)

SS Ranking 9: none

SS Ranking 8: none

SS Ranking 7: none

SS Ranking 6: Aptos (API 829), Marina (API 806)

SS Ranking 5: none

SS Ranking 4: Giannini (API 874), Vis Valley (API 691)

SS Ranking 3: Presidio (API 871), MLK (API 710), ISA (API 620)

SS Ranking 2: Mann (API 653)

SS Ranking 1: Hoover (API 821), Lick (API 726), Denman (API 722), Francisco (API 707), Everett (API 607)

With the majority of our middle schools in the bottom of the similar schools ranking, it looks like SFUSD has a long way to go to provide Quality Middle Schools for All. It will be interesting to hear their take on "Quality" and how they intend to achieve it (without relying solely on demographic musical chairs) when they present to the BOE later this month.

- Donna


  1. Perhaps the similar schools ranking is largely bulls--t?

  2. Thank you for posting this Donna.

  3. It doesn't matter how low the score and ranking is.. as long as its a "Hidden Gem"

  4. Failing Our Future:
    The Holes in California’s School Accountability System and How to Fix Them
    James S. Lanich, Lance T. Izumi, and Xiaochin C. Yan

    Research shows that state school accountability systems have a positive impact on student achievement, but only when states accurately track schools’ academic performance and attach interventions or rewards to the performance or non-performance of schools. California’s school accountability system, the Academic Per¬formance Index (API), is unfortunately severely deficient in this crucial area of identifying what’s working or not working in schools.

    What’s Wrong with California’s Accountability System?

    • The state’s Academic Performance Index (API), which measures the academic performance and test-score-based growth of individual schools, establishes the performance target for all schools at 800 (on a scale of 200 to 1,000). But the target goal is significantly lower than grade-level proficiency, which is 875.

    • Schools scoring below 800 are given annual growth targets based on a minimal five percent of the dif¬ference between the school’s current API score and the goal of 800. Using this formula, it would take a school with a starting API of 735 (4,900 California schools have this API or lower) about 44 years to reach 800. In other words, generations of California kids attending these schools will receive an education far below an expectation of reaching grade level.

    • Two school improvement programs under the state’s accountability system are the Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program (II-USP) and the High Priority Schools Grant Program (HPSGP). Review of student test scores at schools participating in these programs shows no significant differences in academic achievement, as measured by improvement in grade-level proficiency on the California Standards Test (CST) over time, yet collectively these programs have spent more than $1 billion. Despite this lack of significant academic improvement, many schools met the criteria established by the state for successful implementation with sufficient API gains for successfully exiting the program.

    • The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that not only a certain percentage of all students at a school hit grade-level proficiency in reading every year, but also that significant racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and other subgroups of students hit those proficiency targets as well. Since California’s API measure focuses on collective schoolwide performance and growth, there is no incentive to intervene with lower-performing students as long as enough higher-performing students keep the school’s average scores above the API benchmarks. Schoolwide API fails to detect or address stagnant or falling student minority subgroup performance.

  5. 7:15, the similar schools ranking is definitely mysterious. I've seen schools with very similar demographics and APIs show very different similar schools rankings, and obviously excellent schools with mediocre similar schools rankings.

    Donna is taking it more seriously than she needs to -- as she'll realize after she's become more familiar with schools and followed these numbers for a few years.

    Not that you shouldn't take the quality of schools seriously. This just isn't the way to judge.

  6. Sorry Donna, but unless you have been a consumer of the SFUSD middle schools, I don't really feel you can make some of your comments. My kid went to Presidio, and it is a great, great school. He was very prepared for Lowell. Roosevelt, Gianini and Hooever are also good, and Lick is coming up. I find the SS designation rather dubious.

  7. Gee Lowell had a high score. Maybe all you people who said Lowell wasn't that great need to shut up and eat humble pie. I think Lowell beat everyone! What a surprise. I thought Lincoln and Gateway were going to be up there, aren't they supposedly just as good?

  8. 6 SFUSD MS's are above 800, 8 below, not counting the K-8's.

    Considering the demographics of SF, it is not bad.

  9. No one ever addresses points on here. It is a fact, several people denigrated Lowell a month ago, said it wasn't that great. Now they disappear or accuse anyone who disagrees with them of being Don or Jeff Scalini.

  10. Don, that's illuminating. Thanks for posting it.

    (No, I am not a sockpuppet; I've criticized Don's comments plenty-o-times on this blog).

    How do API and No Child Left Behind work together (or not), then? Do schools ignore NCLB and focus on API? Or what?

  11. While I agree that the similar schools can be confusing, what it does is help clarify when schools are doing well simply because of demographics. A school with a high overall ranking (i.e Miraloma at 8) but low SS (ranking of 2) means that even with a demographic so skewed to a small socioeconomic status, high caucasian and asian population, low latino, etc., they are still not performing as well as they should compared to other schools with similarly populated students.

    None of these rankings are the be all end all, but they do help compare school against school especially when you compare absolute and similar school APIs. Some schools everyone thinks are so great, aren't doing as well as we thought, and others are actually doing better.

  12. The biggest difference between API accountability and NCLB is the absence of science and history in NCLB. This has led to greater coursework emphasis in language arts and math to feed the NCLB machine and a narrowing of the scope and breath of public education. So I’m not a big fan of the heavy emphasis of high stakes testing. But it seems to be here to stay, and be that as it may, there are some interesting points to be gleaned from the standardized Star and CAHSEE tests.

    Many will have already observed the topping out of most high API schools. These schools vary little year over year and tend to increase or decrease primarily with demographic shifts, indicating it is very difficult to squeeze out incremental academic gains among the highest performing schools. Conversely, the low performers can see schoolwide scores vary 50 points or more simply through better attendance and test preparation.

    So how did the SIG schools do given they are the largest SFUSD initiative as part of the Superintendent Zones? They fared no better than other schools in those zones and, sadly, Everett dropped 31 points. Most SIG schools improved 20 to 30 points on average. This is consistent with other similar schools in the same areas. It is true that these schools received the grant funding late last year so it will be more informational when we have received API results next year. But an increase of 20 -30 points at schools in the low 600 and low 700 is nothing to brag about and this is why we have heard little from SFUSD regarding the SIG school test scores.

    At this still early stage of SIG, the modest improvements are not commensurate with the tremendous investment made in the schools as other schools made similar improvements without the massive investments. We can hope they do better once many of the programs put in place have had time to make in-roads.

    As for the similar school ranking, it is unclear to me what value it adds to the equation, but it seems to be widely viewed as a suspect barometer of contrasting school achievement. The real story is the API. Those are the numbers that determine how dollars flow, not the similar school ranking.

    Fortunately, Darryl Steinberg’s Senate Bill 547 has cleared committee and is likely to be enacted into law. It will provide more depth and breathe to the API scores and is a step in the right direction away from the limited academic goals that have need set by politicians in Sac or DC.

    If your child is struggling in attaining basic proficiency, the STAR test has its merits in providing some guidance to students and teachers. To the extent that the standardized tests only measure a narrow set of capabilities, for proficient and advanced students it is likely to lead to less interest in schooling and I believe such testing does not portend an education that is rich in critical thinking and individual expression.

  13. correction: That have BEEN set

  14. Is similar schools score based on %free/reduced lunch population? If so, schools with many undocumented immigrant kids (whose parents may be too scared to turn in the free lunch forms) may appear to be of higher SES than those with many indigent, but legal Asian immigrant kids (the schools that tend to have the highest similar school scores).

  15. For the statewide ranking, the API scores are divided into 10 equal groups (deciles) for elementary, middle, and high schools. For each type of school, 10% of the schools are placed in each decile group; the groups are numbered from 1 (the lowest) to 10 (the highest). A school's statewide rank is the decile into which it falls.

    Schools with 1 to 99 test scores are grouped with the others according to grades served, but small schools' scores are not used to calculate rankings. School districts and ASAM schools also are not ranked.

    The PSAA also set up a mechanism, a school characteristics index (SCI), for comparing a school with its peers based on the challenges they face because of student demographics and some school and teacher characteristics. The SCI considers the following factors:

    Socioeconomic indicators (average parent education, percent of students participating in free/reduced-price meals);
    Percent of students who are English learners (ELs) or have been redesignated as fluent English proficient (RFEP);
    Percent of students from eight different racial/ethnic groups, including "two or more races";
    Percent of students with disabilities;
    Percent of students in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program;
    Teacher credentials (percent of teachers who are fully credentialed, percent with emergency permits);
    Average class size in specific grade spans;
    Percent of students first attending the school this year (i.e., school mobility);
    Whether the school operates a multitrack, year-round educational program;
    Percent of enrollment in specific grade spans by grade span; and
    Percent of students in the Migrant Education Program.

    SCI values primarily reflect student demographics and, to a lesser extent, school and teacher characteristics. The lower a school's SCI value, the more likely the school is to have low test scores because of challenges such as low average parent education level, high poverty rates, and high percentages of English learners. For more statistical information regarding the calculation of the SCI, see

  16. If you look at the scores of the similar schools, you will often find that there is only a 1-50 point spread across the entire group. Similar schools rankings seem pretty suspect to me. Does it really matter if there is only a 10 point spread between a SS rank of 5 and one of 9 or 10?