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Schools Get More Time to Adjust to New Tests

The State Board of Education voted this week to suspend the state’s API system for a second straight year. The shift poses a unique challenge to charter schools, which rely on test scores to attract parents.

If parents want a simple, clear-cut way of seeing how San Diego schools stack up, they’re going to have to wait.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to suspend the state’s API system for a second straight year while a new, more holistic accountability system is created. API scores are three-digit composite numbers, based on test scores, which rank schools according to their performance.

The board has yet to decide on the components of the new accountability system, but EdSource reports they could include measures for “school climate, student engagement, access to courses leading to college and careers and the implementation of new academic standards, such as the Common Core State Standards, as well as measures of student achievement.”

Yes, that’s a lot of stuff — some of which, like student engagement, is hard to quantify.

Last year, California school districts had a reprieve from testing while the state transitioned to Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessments. Students took a dry run at the tests last year, but it was more of a dress rehearsal and a way to check for glitches.

In May, local students will have their first full-speed run at the Smarter Balanced tests, the new assessments based on Common Core state standards. Those scores will be released this summer, and the State Board of Education is already cautioning parents not to freak out if test scores look low. They’ll only be the baseline measures, and comparing results to past standardized test scores would be apples-to-oranges.

While some school and district leaders have complained API scores are too limited to accurately reflect a school’s quality, it also leaves a vacuum for parents looking for a simple way of shopping schools.

Here’s good analysis from EdSource:

“While the API presented a one-dimensional view of a school, it also had the virtue of simplicity. It offered parents a composite number on which to measure a school’s performance. By requiring the calculation of separate API numbers for student subgroups, it exposed gaps in achievement for low-income students, special education students and Hispanic and African-American children.”

All this comes at a time when many school districts, including San Diego Unified, are distancing themselves from years of high-stakes testing.

As the U-T pointed out, last month the San Diego Unified school board unanimously approved a resolution urging Congress to remove the annual testing requirement from federal law. The resolution is a largely symbolic gesture, but it sheds light on board members’ perspectives on testing requirements.

The shift poses a unique challenge to charter schools, which rely on test scores to attract parents. Plus, when charter schools need to be reauthorized, they’re evaluated by the progress students have made on test scores.

Miles Durfee, regional director for the California Charter Schools Association, said the absence of data hasn’t been an issue for San Diego charters yet, but it’s on the group’s radar.

Instead of evaluating a school by its test scores, Durfee worries districts could make determinations based on more subjective factors.

“Aggregated scores aren’t perfect, but absent any comparison to other charter schools or traditional public schools, we don’t have much to go on,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated when local students will undertake Smarter Balanced assessments. The testing takes place in May.

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