Rankings keep score on schools

Sure to cause both cheers and groans throughout the Chico Unified School District, the 2003 Academic Performance Index (API) scores were released March 9.

These “base API” scores are different from those released in the “growth” reports a few months ago, but they both draw from students’ efforts on the CAT-6 test administered to second- through 11th-graders last April and May.

The state has essentially ranked California schools, sorting campuses into percentiles by tenths, resulting in schools being labeled from “1” (the lowest) to “10” (the highest). There’s one number for a campus’ statewide rank, based on how it compares to all California schools, and another for its similar-schools rank, in which the campus is compared to others with like populations.

“Ten percent of the schools are going to be 1’s by definition,” explained Cindy Kampf, director of testing for the CUSD.

“I’m pleased with most of the results,” she said. “We’re maintaining our place in line at most schools and going up at a few.”

For the CUSD as a whole, the base API for 2003 was 722—above 2002’s figure of 707. Every school’s score went up from 2002, with the exception of Hooker Oak, Forest Ranch and Chapman elementaries.

Shasta Elementary, which was the second-highest-scoring school in Butte County, trailing Children’s Community Charter Schools in Paradise, had an API of 819, with a statewide rank of 8 and a similar-schools rank of 4. The rest played out as follows: Marigold—814, 8, 4; Sierra View—808, 8, 1; Hooker Oak—769, 7, 1; Little Chico Creek—767, 7, 3; Emma Wilson—754, 6, 1; Neal Dow—752, 6, 1; Chico Country Day—749, 6, 1; Parkview—728, 5, 3; Jay Partridge—719, 5, 5; Citrus—683, 4, 3; McManus—677, 4, 1; Rosedale—647, 3, 3; Chapman—591, 1, 1; Marsh Junior—801, 9, 7; Bidwell Junior—728, 7, 1; Chico Junior—710, 6, 2; Pleasant Valley High—714, 8, 2; Chico High—683, 7, 3. The “small schools” got only base API’s and statewide ranks: Forest Ranch—767, 7; Cohasset—749, 6; Nord—657, 3.

The similar-schools rank can be a little misleading. When determining the 100 schools to which a particular campus is similar, half of the weight is given to parent education level, historically the best predictor of how children will perform on a test. For example, Sierra View Elementary got an API of 808 but ranked at only 1 among similar schools. That makes sense, Kampf said, when one notices that Sierra View was compared to schools in ritzy Bel Air. “In Butte County that doesn’t play out,” she said. “We have a highly educated, poor population.”

For Kampf, the best news is, “We have four schools now that have met the state target of 800.” Two of those are Title I schools, which get special funding due to their populations of students from low-income families.

Kampf recommended that people associated with schools where the API numbers are low keep it in perspective, neither ignoring the issue nor feeling hurt or upset. “The API’s have gone up several hundred points at some of our lowest performing schools, but everyone else is going up, too,” she said, so it’s hard to keep pace.

She said there are programs in place to help the lowest-scoring schools continue to improve. Even with the lower scores, Kampf said, most parents believe in their schools. Given the legally required opportunity to transfer out of the district’s five "underperforming" schools, only 12 children moved.