Scores, Schmores, What’s Your School’s API Score?


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?

I sat down with realtor and Beyond The Crib blogger Sara Reichling to share some insight into what all those scores mean. Check out her post, What’s Your API Score?


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.

API, AP What?

by Tanya Anton |

May is typically the month where students spend up to two weeks testing their knowledge of grade-level standards. Standardized testing is mandated for all public school 2nd through 12th graders as part of the No Child Left Behind Act former President Bush signed into law in 2002. Test results are used to calculate each school’s Academic Performance Index (API) and Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Schools are required to progress up 5 points every year and meet all target demographics in the school, which, if not met, can come with steep consequences.

That API score, or overall school test score, is one of the first things parents tend to look at when considering a school for their child, but is it the best way to measure a school? Is a high score all it’s cracked up to be? Does a lower score mean the school is no good? What does that API number really tell us?

API scores tell us how students performed on a series of tests over the course of a couple of weeks the previous spring.

But test scores are NOT indicative of the quality of a school’s educational experience. For my elementary school parents, they merely measure how a group of students, (last year’s 2nd-5th graders), tested in that particular week of spring testing in the subjects of English Language Arts and Math, with some 5th grade Science.

Test scores do NOT tell you what kind of teaching is going on, what the learning environment is like, how effectively teachers communicate and interact with the students, if the school fosters positive social-emotional development, or if students come away with a sense of curiosity, a love of learning, or long-range comprehension which becomes the base with which to scaffold deeper meaning and higher knowledge.

Test scores do NOT indicate what other subjects and enrichments students are exposed to, if they are given opportunities for hands-on learning, exploring alternative learning modalities, working in teams, mentoring or accelerated differentiation where needed, or if instead, students are grouped and repetitively drilled in the basic test subjects of English and Math — sometimes referred to as the “bread and water” of public education.

I have seen parents pull their kids out of high-performance schools that may look better “on paper,” (scores in the upper 800s to low-mid-900s), when the actual classroom experience turned out to be stressful, repetitive, and threatening a child’s innate love of learning.

Dianne Ravitch, one of the architects of No Child Left Behind in George W. Bush’s Department of Education, says she now feels that it was all a big mistake. 

“The basic strategy is measuring and punishing,” Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. “And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there’s a lot of cheating going on, there’s a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it’s actually lowered standards because many states have ‘dumbed down’ their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are.”  Full story.

Sure, we all want our kids to be able to read, write and do their arithmetic, but is that where the majority of the focus should be?

The best way to get a feel for a school, more than just looking at test scores, is to get on campus, take a look around with your eyes and your gut instinct, meet the people involved, ask questions, and have a direct personal experience there. Scores can only tell you so much.

© 2011 by Tanya Anton, All Rights Reserved.