Educators, politicians and anyone with a kid (and many without) have struggled to understand the perceived decline in American schools and sort through suggested solutions.
This week, the California Board of Education voted to extend a suspension of the Academic Performance Index (API) for a second year in anticipation of implementing a new system that relegates the longtime standard to being just one piece of analytical data among many. API is the primary measure of academic performance in the state.
The board is still trying to shape a system, called “Smarter Balance,” that will correspond to the national Common Core standards, which focus on critical thinking rather than rote memorization. API, which calculates a single three-digit number based on standardized test scores, would be joined by other measurements of student achievement.
There was a simplistic utilitarian value attached to API score, which was used to calculate the achievement of schools and school districts. There has been widespread internecine war over linking API scores to teacher evaluations that won’t end with a new system.
Many observers thought the board’s decision was a foregone conclusion, with the inevitable switch in one year and the chaos already existing throughout state schools. The chaos was especially pronounced in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), where a $1-billion plan to equip all its students with iPads crashed and burned last year. The plan was to load software for Common Core test preparation and level the academic playing field for all students.
That magic bullet didn’t work. Public education is under fire everywhere for a level of achievement deemed unacceptable in a modern world, where kids are measured against contemporaries in foreign nations who they are expected to eventually compete with in a global economy.
API numbers weren’t getting the job done. And there is some question whether Common Core will either.
As people stumble around for solutions, they have pointed fingers at misguided education officials running lousy public schools populated with unqualified, unaccountable unionized teachers teaching crappy curriculums to understandably unmotivated kids.
Generally speaking, solutions have included embracing the private market, encouraging charter school competition, testing like crazy and beating up teachers, rather than acknowledging that classrooms reflect a changing culture and new economic realities that have transformed the life of a student.
Schools will administer API and “Smarter Balanced” tests to students in third through eighth grade during the spring, but they won’t count in school ratings.