By Robert Schussel, Ph.D
To investigate the performance of students in the Vallejo City Unified School District (VCUSD) on the API ( Academic Performance Index) compared to students in Fairfield and the entire State of California.
Academic Performance Index
The Academic Performance Index (API) is a measurement of academic performance and progress of individual schools in California It is one of the main components of the Public Schools Accountability Act passed by the California legislature in 1999. API scores ranges from a low of 200 to a high of 1000. The API score is a single number that indicates how well students in a school or district performed on the previous spring’s tests. (Descriptions from Education Data Partnerships and Wikipedia).
With the State Administrator giving power back to the Vallejo School Board and the hiring of a new superintendent (Dr. Ramona Bishop) the VCUSD has been putting a variety of new programs in place to improve academic performance, attendance and suspensions etc.
Two of the programs that the current Superintendent Dr. Ramona Bishop started when she first arrived appear to be improving dropoutand graduation rates. [LINK TO IBVALLEJO ARTICLE] They have significantly lowered suspension and expulsion rates.
- Positive Behavior Intervention–Establishes a positive and proactive school climate that guides how staff and students are to conduct themselves.
- Restorative Justice—Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, “to repair the harm they’ve done—by apologizing, returning stolen money, or community service.
Many of the other programs being introduced are aimed at improving academic performance.
—STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) Middle Schools
Themed K-8 schools and Full Service Community Schools (comprehensive academic, social, mental, and physical education services to meet student, family, and community needs)
Credit Recovery Program offers electives, which students can take once they finish their core classes in summer school etc.
—Wall to wall academies–Simultaneously prepare students for both college and the workforce. Students enroll in an academy as sophomores, joining a team of teachers who coordinate cross-curriculum lesson plans.
THE KEY QUESTION—Are these programs making a difference?
1) The API is a standardized test and has been criticized by some as not measuring important aspects of learning . One specific criticisms made has been that since dropout rates were not taken into account, some schools were encouraged to let low performing students dropout and thus have higher scores.
2) The API data in this article covers the spring test administrations from 2007 through 2012. During this time period both Vallejo and Fairfield School Districts have added and eliminated schools. Averages for each of the 6 years were calculated to take into account these changes.
–For Fairfield, three elementary schools (Bransford, Amy Blanc and H. Glenn Richardson) and one middle school (Dover) were not included as they have been closed for three years.
–For Vallejo’s Middle Schools the calculated average consisted of 5 schools. Vallejo and Springtown Middle closed in 2012.They were not eliminated as their inclusion did not significantly change the relationships found.
–Hogan High School closed in 2012 .Hogan was included in the average for the earlier years as it had little influence on the averages.
3) Due to problems with improper administration of the API test by a proctor in a Vallejo School ,VCUSD API scores for 2013 will not be made available by the State.
4) The VCUSD administration has made statements that the School District is unique (including demographics) and should not be compared to other Districts. Data obtained from the California Department of education is presented in the Appendix. The data shows that while differences exist the Vallejo and Fairfield-Suisun School Districts tend to be somewhat similar on measures of demographics and family income.
Data for this study was obtained from the California Department of Education site.
An average API score was calculated separately by year (2007 through 2012) for Fairfield’s and Vallejo’s Elementary Schools, Middle Schools and High schools. In addition the State API averages by year for Elementary, Middle and High School were obtained from the Department of Education website. The appendix contains a list of Vallejo and Fairfield schools used.
As some schools closed or were added over the time period 2007/12 the averages by year were calculated with and without them. In most cases the change in averages was trivial.
1) For 2011 and 2012 Vallejo’s the gap between Vallejo’s Elementary School average API scores and the State averages have increased significantly.
2) The increase in the State Average API score for Elementary schools is more than two times greater than the increase for VCUSD elementary schools over the 5 year period. In 2007 Vallejo Elementary API score was 39 points lower than the State average .For the latest year 2012, Vallejo’s Elementary School average API score is 55 points lower.
3) For each of the years measured Fairfield’s elementary schools API scores have risen faster than the State average. Fairfield’s Elementary school Average API is now 25 points above the State average, while Vallejo’s score is now 55 points below the State average ( in 2007 Vallejo was 39 points below the State Average).
4) Over the 5 years measured, Vallejo’s elementary school API average increased 36 points, while the State grew 52 points and Fairfield increased 94 points– Fairfield’s increase is about 3 times more than Vallejo’s increase.
5) The gap between Fairfield and Vallejo has increased significantly. In 2007 Fairfield’s Elementary School API average was 22 points higher than Vallejo. For 2011 and 2012 the gap has increased significantly. For 2012 Fairfield’s Elementary School API average is now 80 points higher than Vallejo.
Middle School (grades 7-8)
Note: Two Vallejo middle schools closed in 2012. Comment—the difference in API average was very similar when calculated for 3 or 5 schools .For this article the API average for 5 schools is used.
1) As with the Elementary School API averages, Vallejo’s Middle School API averages flattened out in 2011 and 2012.
The gap between Vallejo’s average score and the State has increased significantly. For 2012 Vallejo is 92 points lower than the State average API for Middle schools.
2) Over the 5 years measured, the State’s API average (for middle schools) grew at twice the rate Vallejo’s middle school average did. Fairfield increased 68 points versus 47 points for Vallejo [Comment—half of Fairfield’s increase occurred in 2012. Until Fairfield 2013 scores are released caution she be used in trying to explain the increase]. Neither School District increased as much as the State average over the 5 year period—82 points.
High Schools (grades 9 to 12)
1) Vallejo’s and Fairfield’s High School API Average grew about the same amount as the State API Average for High Schools. Thus neither Districts High Schools were able to close the gap they have with the State.
Factors that helped Fairfield improve their Academic Performance
The below is a summary of what I learned about the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School Districts (FSUSD) attempts to improve their schools.
Due to lack of improvement (for two consecutive years) in test scores, Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District (F-SUSD) became a Program Improvement District under the No Child Left Behind Act. (The Appendix contains a typical letter that is sent out)
The Districts efforts were put in place in 2007. Some of the key factors included:
- Programs are very focused
- Strategies put into place to deal with the problems, especially a focus on Professional Development (what are good teaching practices –for example what is the purpose of a lesson)
- “Classroom Walks” by supervisors etc. to observe what is happening in a teacher’s classroom. The purpose of the visits is to provide constructive, focused, feedback.
- A focus on the teacher in the classroom with the students
It is felt that having a program that is the same across the District has improved student turnover. Even if a child moves within the District (high mobility use to occur) the experience is no longer new and different as the teaching experience will be similar regardless of which school is attended.
Fairfield’s experience is that an effort similar to theirs will take 3 to 5 years to see improvement.
Examples of strategies etc.
When I first saw the results of analysis I was surprised to see Vallejo’s API scores for grades 2 through 8 in 2011 and 2012 had flattened out while the State average has continued to increase [the net effect is that Vallejo is losing ground].
I had expected to see Vallejo’s closing the gap with the State as the School Board touts the innovative programs that have been introduced over the past several years. It appears the implementation of these programs have not produced academic increases (compared to the State or Fairfield) in the short term
. What makes the finding disappointing is that Fairfield’s Elementary Schools which are relatively similar to Vallejo have improved significantly more than the State average. In comparison Vallejo’s Elementary and Middle School performance (as measured by the API) declined compared to the State average. Hopefully improvements will start to occur in the next two or three years.
I feel the VCUSD needs to make investigating the decline in API a high priority. The VCUSD should provide the Public with possible reasons for the increasing gaps noted. While the Board should insure that targeted programs etc. to address the increasing gaps in performance are put in place.
Appendix Comparison of VCUSD to the State and Fairfield Suisun Unified School District
The VCUSD administration has stated that the District is unique and should not be compared to other Districts. Data was obtained from the California Department of Education to determine if the statement is supported by the facts available.
1) On measures of income, VCUSD has a slightly higher percentage of low income students.
2) Both Vallejo and Fairfield as compared to the State average have fewer students for whom English is a second language. This is probably due to a lower percentage of Hispanic students than the State average.
3) Parents educational level are very similar for the two school districts. As the number of Vallejo parents in the District with less than a high school education is below the State average it is hard to make the argument that high dropout rate at VCUSD is due to parents who were dropouts themselves.
|Parent Education Level (STAR)||VCUSD||F-SUSD||STATE|
|Percentage with a response*||92%||98%||86%|
|Of those with a response:|
|Not a high school graduate||13%||12%||20%|
|High school graduate||30%||28%||24%|
|PARENTS EDUC LEVEL||2.72||2.82||2.82|
4) Compared to the State, both Vallejo and Fairfield School Districts have significantly fewer Hispanic students and more Filipino and African American students.
5) While the ethnic/racial distribution differs some between the two school districts, they are more similar to one another than to the State averages.
|American Indian or Alaska Native||0%||1%||1%|
|Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander||2%||1%||1%|
|Two or More Races||3%||11%||2%|
|Black or African American||30%||18%||7%|
|Hispanic or Latino||32%||36%||52%|
Bottom-line Although some differences exist on the demographic measures available from the CA Dept of Education, the demographic makeup of the Vallejo and Fairfield School Districts are relatively similar. Programs that are effective in one District are likely to be successful in the other. Much of the major differences in dropout rates and academic performance of the students in the two districts are likely to be due to factors other than race, parent education or household income.
Appendix Schools used for analysis
Appendix TYPICAL PROGRAM IMPROVEMENT LETTER SENT TO PARENTS