Testing Prism For Student Achievement

At least in the Oakland Hills, you need a many-faceted prism to measure student performance.  Success isn’t exactly defined by public school tests and rankings alone.

When you track the performance of our elementary schools in the hills, there are no surprises and they rank highly year after year.  By high school, these numbers decline precipitously and top performing students seem to vanish as well.  Let’s examine this a bit more.

Test Takers Soon Appear

Hills Kids Swimming Together

The State of California just released their Academic Performance Index (APIs), and our three schools scored well as usual:  Montclair at 957, up 35 points from last year; Thornhill at 944, up 20 points; and Joaquin Miller at 886, up 18 points.

Oakland’s average score is 695, which includes all elementary, middle and high schools city-wide.  That number gets driven down by economically disadvantaged students who scored 668 on average.  As a proxy, racial breakouts also show APIs of 902 for Whites and 630 for African-Americans overall.

For the Oakland Hills schools, the paler and richer kids living here perform better as a group – and are more highly represented in the elementary schools.  Thus we expect our local schools to score well on standardized tests, and are satisfied when they achieve mid-900 APIs.

Kids Swim In Different Pools

Among Oakland’s middle schools or high schools, things change quickly.  There are no standout API score performers except for a few charter schools, and none around here.  We believe that reflects shifts in school populations, as kids are sent beyond their neighborhood enclaves to public or even private schools.

By middle school, you see the average scores reflect these changes and begin to drop.  For example, Montera registers an 814 API that includes 928 for White and 912 for Asian students.  Likewise, Claremont reports a 701 API, including 915 for White kids there.

Kids Jump Into Biggest Pool

Skyline High doesn’t do well period, with a 667 API that’s below the overall Oakland average score!  Again there’s a mixed bag with White and Asian kids delivering around 790, while African Americans and Hispanics hover near the 600 mark.  Disadvantaged students of all races deliver a 641 API.

Since Skyline is a very large high school, with well over 2,000 students, it’s difficult to raise the API averages with smaller high-achiever contributions.  Yet the drop is so substantial that you have to wonder what is happening with students, as they hit the high school years.  Are things really that bad, or do the number hide success stories?

One way to find out is through standard college-admissions tests like ACTs or SATs.   The 2010 news isn’t pretty, as there are ZERO National Merit Semifinalists from either Skyline or any Oakland public high school.  This award recognizes the top PSAT test-takers from junior year.

Where have all the smartest kids gone, all to private schools, every one?  We know there must be successful students around, but it’s so hard to isolate them as a group.  The testing prism is all about ensuring the minimums, and not really peering into what’s happening with our children as they grow up in the public schools.

More info:   Check out the State of California API reports, including Oakland’s school details and Oakland’s race segmentations.  Also see the California’s National Merit Semifinalists. The Tribune’s Katy Murphy has written all about API inequities and Merit awardees in Oakland too.

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