Public Funds Fail to Achieve Academic Improvement

San Francisco: Approximately $1.25 billion in state public education funding provided to schools to help improve student academic performance has yielded little if any academic improvement, even though these schools met the state Academic Performance Index (API) requirements to exit the improvement program as successful. This analysis comes just as the state is set to carry out the agreed upon terms of last year's SB 1133 (Torlakson) and pour nearly $3 billion more into a similar program.
This finding is included in a new study released by the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), a free-market think tank based in California. Failing our Future: The Holes in California's School Accountability System and How to Fix Them exposes the flaws in California's school accountability system, the API, and makes recommendations to improve it. The study, co-authored by James S. Lanich, PhD, president of California Business for Education Excellence and Lance T. Izumi, director of Education Studies at PRI, can be downloaded free of charge at www.pacificresearch.org and at www.cbee.org.
The study reviews the API system and finds that it is not an accurate or meaningful measurement of school and student academic achievement. The study also looks in-depth at two school improvement programs: the Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program (II-USP) and the High Priority Schools Grant Program (HPSGP).
Each program offers additional money to schools which, according to the API, are low-performing. Review of student test scores at the 1,620 low-performing schools that participated in these programs over three years, versus low-performing schools that did not participate, shows no significant difference in academic achievement over time as measured by improvement in grade-level proficiency on the California Standards Test (CST).
Collectively these two programs have spent approximately $1.25 billion or an average of $771,604 per school.
Despite this lack of improvement in achievement, these schools met their API growth targets established by the state for successful implementation with sufficient results for exiting the program.
The lack of significant academic improvement by schools participating in these programs is particularly troubling given that the state is set to spend an additional $2.9 billion of state taxpayer funds to continue a program that does not require higher rates of improvement. AB 1133 (Torlakson), signed into law last year, uses the $2.9 billion settlement from CTA, et al. v. Schwarzenegger, et al. to continue the High Priority Schools Grant Program.
The study also finds the API's "growth" targets are so minimal that simply by achieving the state required "growth" each year, it would take a school with a starting API score of 635 or less (3,423 of California schools have this API) between 61 to 84 years to reach grade-level proficiency.
"If we keep using the API as our benchmark for gauging school and student academic improvement, we'll continue to deceive parents and the public about how our students and our schools are really performing academically," said Mr. Lanich. "We should be gauging academic achievement on the single most important measurement: grade-level proficiency. It's simple, it's understandable, and it's the standard every parent expects and every student should meet every year."
Mr. Izumi added that grade-level proficiency is not only a more rigorous measurement than California's API, it is more meaningful because it allows teachers, administrators and parents to understand precisely what is working and not working in our schools. "Under the API, we have an 'accountability' system that isn't accountable."
Poor and Minority Children Left Behind under California's API System
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that not only a certain percentage of all students at a school attain grade-level proficiency in reading and math every year, but also that significant racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and other subgroups of students achieve those proficiency targets as well. The eventual goal is to have 100 percent of students reaching grade-level proficiency in reading and math by 2013-14. Since the API system focuses on collective school-wide performance and growth, there is no incentive to intervene and improve schools with lower-performing students as long as enough higher-performing students keep the school's average scores above the API benchmarks. School-wide API measures fail to detect or address stagnant or declining minority student performance.
Recommendations
According to Failing Our Future, California should set higher expectations for improvement for all schools, abandon the complicated API, focus efforts on grade-level proficiency as measured by the CST, and replicate the best practices from high-performing schools, especially those with low-income and minority populations. The study profiles two exceptional California schools, the C.A. Jacobs Intermediate School in Dixon and Laton High School in Laton.
"For state school accountability systems to be effective, there must be swift interventions and meaningful consequences for the performance or non-performance of schools," said Mr. Izumi, "Unfortunately, as our study shows, California's system is severely deficient in this crucial area."


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