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November 18, 2009 > How schools are graded

How schools are graded

By Dustin Findley

Michael Mendizabal, President of the Milpitas Unified School District (MUSD), explained to the Economic Development Commission the two main standards by which schools are judged, Academic Performance Index (API) and Annual Yearly Progress (AYP).

All students grades 2 - 11 take standardized tests in the spring and the district receives the scores in the fall.

API is how the State looks at schools.

AYP is the standard that the federal government judges schools according to the federal program known as No Child Left Behind.

The two programs are somewhat interconnected, but separate. A great API score does not equal performing well according to AYP.

API is based on an index between 0 and 1000, with the State considering a score of 800 to be "proficient."

The State has various rankings that correspond to different numerical scores: far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient and advanced.

If a school is not at 800, then the State would want that school to make up 5% of the difference between the score and 800 each year. For example, if a school scores an API of 700 the State goal for score improvement would be 705 the following test year.

As of Spring 2009 MUSD, as a district, has an API score of 815, which is an average of the API scores from all the schools in the district.

Nine out of 13 schools in MUSD have scored above 800 as of Spring 2009. The lowest scoring school has a score of 730, but has improved 111 points over the ten years of testing since 1999.

Five elementary schools in the district are Title I schools, meaning that 30% of the students get a free or reduced lunch. Rose Elementary, a Title I school, went up 30 points to a score of 818.

Students who come from higher income families are more likely to get higher API scores.

Test scores have a tendency to reflect family outlook, either seeing school as a way to get to college to get a job, or seeing high school as a way to get a job.

So according to API, the State system, MUSD is doing excellent. Mendizabal believes that the district has six California Distinguished Schools.

Calaveras Hills High School, the continuation high school for students who need to make up credits from Milpitas High School, is considered a State of California model continuation high school.

The Federal program, AYP, does not publish a set of numbers.

The overall criteria for AYP is that by 2013 every child in the United States will be proficient, as defined by the State.

If a school falls behind, the State asks questions and asks how it can help, while the federal government takes away Title I money if the school falls behind.

Proficient in the State of California means that if a student takes a multiple choice test, that student will at least score a 70%. The standard of proficiency is different for each state. Some states define a score of 30% on the hypothetical multiple choice test as proficient.

Each year the number of students who are proficient to meet AYP standards goes up by 11%, until 100% of the students are proficient in 2013.

In 2010 AYP deems that 70% of students need to be proficient for the school to be succeeding at educating.

Not only must the school score as proficient, but also every significant subgroup within the school or district.

A significant subgroup is any categorical group of students that comprise 10% of the student body, or 100 students.

If 60 out of 600 students fall into a socioeconomic, English language learning, Asian, Hispanic, Caucasian, African-American or Pacific Islander subgroup, then that subgroup must meet all of the AYP standards.

At least 95% of the subgroup must take the standardized tests to meet AYP requirements.

If 3 students of the 60 student subgroup are absent the day of the test, and do not make it up, then the school would be out of compliance, and fail AYP. If the same area is not brought into compliance the next year, then the school would be put on Program Improvement (PI).

Mendizabal explained that this year the school district missed on two or three AYP categories. Next year, if the district misses on any one of those three categories, the school district would be put in Program Improvement.

There are 31 school districts in Santa Clara County that get Title I funding from the federal government. In order to get judged according to AYP the school has to receive money from the federal government.

Out of those 31 school districts, 12 are on Program Improvement.

The first year of PI means that the district has to give parents the option to transfer their child to another school. Students can only go to a school outside the Milpitas district if that school will accept them.

The only students that left a Milpitas elementary school that was on PI were the students who scored highly.

Not all parents have the means to get their student into high API scoring schools even within the Milpitas Unified School District.

When high scoring students leave a school because the school gets lower scores, that school generally performs worse the next year.

"It is statistically impossible for every child to reach proficient" Mendizabal said.

Students with special needs and learning English for the first time are not going to score well.

The federal government has yet to decide about what to do regarding AYP standards and enforcement.

Next year No Child Left Behind comes up for reauthorization, and members of the Milpitas school district believe that the federal government will drop some penalties.

"Right now we have one school in the school district that's on PI" Mendizabal said.

The school is 70 points away from meeting the standard of proficient in California.

Mendizabal explained that the category that the school district is missing on mostly is the Hispanic and Latino category because there are language and socioeconomic problems, which the district is working to resolve.

The district is working with Cisco to try to make Randall Elementary into a technology magnet elementary school, Mendizabal told the Economic Development Commission.

Cisco is talking about outfitting a couple classrooms with computers and other technology, which would likely improve standardized test scores and attract high performing students.

It is legal in the State of California for parents to withdraw their child from testing, and choose to not subject them to a strenuous situation that does not affect grades.

If more than 5% of students in the total population of students or subgroup withdraw, then that school or district will fail at AYP.

The Milpitas district gets close to $1 million from the federal government every year to distribute to the six Title I schools.

Each school gets over $100,000 that is very much needed, and to get that money they have to participate in AYP.

When high scoring students leave a school on Program Improvement, they are leaving the environment where they were able to do well on the standardized test. Transferring the students from that school does not mean that they will get better scores, even if they go to a better scoring school.

The public perception of the school district and how well the students perform on tests affects economic development and attracting residents and businesses.

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