Just exactly how do we know a school is “failing”? Since there is no consensus as to what “education” even is, or should be, and no clear idea of what constitutes “intelligence” or how that relates to “success”, how is it that one pack of well-organized and well-funded ideologues can claim clairvoyance on the subject of “failure”?

With an orchestrated campaign and long-enough perspective just about anyone can be made to believe just about anything.

For example, it is broadly believed that a given school’s Academic Performance Index (API) can be tracked year-to-year as a surrogate measure of “progress”. Parents district-wide, especially in charter schools, are treated to pep rallies where the year’s new API is unveiled and compared with last year’s. Except this index is not comparable between years because it is not calculated in the same way year-to-year. It is comparable within a year because the API is jiggered each year to create a “base” rate expressly calculated to be comparable to its “growth”, or year’s-end new score. But between years comparing these scores is like comparing proverbial apples and oranges.

This is because the API is an ‘index’ of “indicators” that changes year to year. Think of these indicators as a “market basket” like that of the better-understood “Consumer Price Index’s” (CPI), designed to track the cost of consumer goods ranging from electricity to energy bars. In education, that “market basket” is composed instead of standardized tests administered to all children across the state. And the specifics of which tests are included and their relative weighting in constructing that single API number, differ year to year.

Therefore the API number is not itself comparable year-to-year. The API change may be valid to compare between years, but the absolute number itself is not.

Note well that the numbers in that “market basket” of API indicators is fundamentally different from the numbers in the CPI market basket. In calculating the CPI, researchers trot over to the grocery store and read off what a pound of hamburger costs. It costs what it costs; you are not estimating anything (beyond what composes an appropriate market basket). But the indicators that compose the API are standardized test scores. These are estimates of something-or-other. But of what? Constructing a valid test is the holy grail of educational assessment, but it is an “aspiration”. Unlike determining the average price of hamburger, that test-score number is an attempt to capture a concept. The test may or may not do a good job of capturing that concept; the concept itself may or may not be a good thing to evaluate. All of it is conceptual in a way that the price of hamburger just is not. Despite the semantic appearance of an objectivity similar to the CPI’s, the API is a fundamentally different animal.

Recently it was mandated that the percentage of that API number which comes from test scores be lowered. A few years ago nearly 100% of the API was from test-score indicators but by 2016 only 60% of the API will come from test-scores. So what indices will compose the remaining 40%? The California Department of Education wants to know your opinion regarding this; you can weigh in on the subject yourself directly here: api@cde.ca.gov .

One suggestion submitted to the state legislature (SB 432) is to “create an index to measure student opportunities for creativity and innovation in schools”. Loading the API number with a component that includes arts, music and other enriching elements of education would mandate that our schools replace these critical components of a student’s experience, missing from today’s classroom.

Some of our current school board members are on record as “supporting arts in the classroom”. They need to understand that beyond expressing support for this necessity, we expect from them action: an “overnight” reversal of this dire short-fall of the sort alluded to generally by new board member Ratliff at her swearing-in. SB 432 is one slow way to affect the change. Re-examining budgets and budgetary priorities is a more immediate one. Our students can afford to lose no more time to this matter. Arts education must be restored in LAUSD for one and all. Please let your boardmember know.

Join the facebook page to support SB 432 here.