One of the first things parents do when checking out a school is to look up its score – that almighty 3-digit API score, which stands for Academic Performance Index, as well as the 1 through 10 Similar Schools Ranking.
As if a school with it’s ever-changing community of personalities, programs and special projects can be reduced down to a simple number.
A number so almighty though, that in terms of real estate and parent frenzy, folks have gone to extreme lengths to get into the right public school. It’s not uncommon for a crazy number of offers (24! 31!) to be thrown at a tear-down house in one of those buzz-driven “halo” (read: high-performing) neighborhood school footprints.
We’ve had realtors knocking on doors on a weekly basis asking, “are you thinking of selling?,” “are you looking to relocate?” due to low inventory in high-performing areas.
I’ve heard of families willing to rent out an 800 square foot 1 BR just to get into a specific school’s attendance area. And let us not forget the 120+ address scammers who fudged their way into the high scoring (and highly regarded) Carpenter Elementary school, who were recently booted off the campus so that actual residents could send their kids to their own neighborhood school.
Parents come up to me and say, “Tanya, I looked up our home school and it’s a 6, it’s a 7 (makes long face) and we only want to send our kid to a 10, maybe a 9 school (making hopeful face).”
So, do scores matter?
In addition to Sara’s post, here are a few points to consider:
Our Governor has suspended testing (and thus its results) for 2 years while we transition to the nationally standardized Common Core testing, so the scores you are looking at are now old.
They are the results of the multiple choice “bubble in the scantron” California Standardized Testing, which for elementary school only tests English and Math, with a little bit of 5th grade Science.
In elementary school, only 2nd through 5th graders take the tests. So those students whose results you are looking at have mostly graduated off by now. Same for middle schools.
Scores tell you absolutely nothing about the style and approach to teaching and learning, let alone what else (besides English and Math) the students are doing, and how they are doing it. Nor does it tell you what types of supports and/or additional challenge it offers for those who might fall above or below the middle.
With so much national pressure being put on scores, it is no wonder that curriculum has narrowed, redundant test prep is paramount, and cheating scandals have, sadly, become rampant.
An API score of 800 or above means the school has met its target and the majority of students are testing at or above grade level standards.
A 900+ school is not necessarily better than an 800+ school.
The 1 through 10 ranking is also based on test scores, then compared to schools with similar racial/socio-economic and other demographics. A 7 school is not necessarily worse than a 9 school. (And I personally have known families who have left a 10 school if it wasn’t the right environment.)
I hope that ALL students who attend school will learn how to read, write and calculate math, but my hope is that our schools will provide so much more than those basics.
And it bears repeating, a school is only as good as its collective of inhabitants – which is constantly shifting. So, please don’t accept or reject a school solely on its score. Please look deeper than that.
For more on API scores, check out one of my archived articles HERE.
To browse school scores in detail, see the CDE website HERE.
If you need help finding the right school for your family, I can help with that. HERE.