The Academic Performance Index (API) is a measurement of academic performance and progress of individual schools in California. The API is calculated using results of the STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) program and the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). In 2009–10, STAR consisted of four types of tests, but not all of them were used in the API. The four tests included the California Standards Tests (CSTs) which examine students' proficiency on academic content standards in a variety of subjects. STAR also included the California Alternative Performance Assessment (CAPA) for students with severe cognitive disabilities, the California Modified Assessment (CMA) for students for whom the CAPA and CSTs are not appropriate, and one test (Standards-based Tests in Spanish) taken by certain Spanish-speaking English learner students. The Spanish tests are not part of the API calculation, but the rest are. The weight of each of these tests in a school's API score varies depending on several factors, but the CSTs generally play the lead role.
The test scores for students not continuously enrolled in a school since October of the school year are not counted in the school's API. Special Education students who are exempted and students whose parents requested that they not be tested are also not counted.
API scores ranges from a low of 200 to a high of 1000. The first step in calculating the API is to divide a school's individual student scores in each subject into five performance bands. The performance bands for California Standards Test (CST) results are labeled advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, and far below basic.
The next step is to apply weights to the percent of students with scores in each performance band (least weight for the lowest bands). These are summed to give a value for the subject.
Then each subject area and test is given a weight within the index. The weights depend on which tests are given to each grade in each school. For example, a high school’s Base API includes CAHSEE results.
The Base API scores vary school by school, depending on students’ grade levels and the number of students tested. The calculation also depends on the number of valid test scores at the school.
Finally, the resulting scores are added to become one number for each school—its API. A school district's API is the sum total of all the student (not school) scores.
A caveat: Although the API is meant as a measure of academic growth, it is not intended to track the school’s growth over several years. The meaningful comparison is within each annual API cycle, between the Base API and the Growth API, because the computation of the API is kept as similar as possible within each cycle.
The incorporation of new elements into the index at the beginning of an API base/growth cycle can lead to unintentional or confusing fluctuations in API scores compared with scores from the previous cycle. The state adjusts API scores to compensate for the effect of those new elements. The mechanism for that technical adjustment is called the scale calibration factor. Even so, the CDE warns against tracking the scores year to year. A better comparison is to look at whether a school or district consistently meets its growth targets or to consider the amount of growth year to year. Even within a cycle, the students represented in each year are different. For example, in a K–6 school, you have a group of 2nd–6th graders present in year one, but in year two the 2nd graders are new and the 6th graders from year one are gone.
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