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Test Confusion

ONE REASON TO relentlessly test students is to give parents a clear idea of how well, or badly, schools in their communities are doing -- and to compel schools to do better.

But state and federal testing regimens have become so complicated, and conflicting, that all these test scores are making us more confused, not less.

This week we were told that 21.4 percent of the state's schools scored 800 on the state's Academic Performance Index. That's less than the 21.7 percent who achieved the 800 score last year.

Is that good or bad? Hard to tell. State officials tell us that the scores released this week -- actually reflecting tests students took last spring -- aren't that important. They're just a "resetting" of last year's scores, to take into account the fact that some tests that students took last year have been dropped from the regimen of tests they will take this year.

Far more important, we're told, is the growth in test scores schools achieve from year to year. That way we can tell whether schools are improving from one year to the next. What we should be looking out for, officials tell us, are the "growth API" scores that will be released in October -- rather than the "base API" scores released this week.

The situation becomes even more complicated when you try to factor in how schools did according to criteria established by the federal government's No Child Left Behind law.

Last week, we were told that 150 districts in California failed to make "adequate yearly progress" under the federal government's No Child Left Behind law. Yet individual schools in many of those districts were among about 1,700 on the list of those that achieved an excellent "base API" score of 800.

It's not unusual for a school to fail to make "adequate yearly progress" -- or AYP in bureaucratese -- according to federal standards, even as it meets it growth target on the state's API. A Chronicle analysis last fall showed that of 606 schools that allegedly failed to make "adequate yearly progress" on the federal law, 74 percent improved on the state's Academic Performance Index.

Even some of the state's best schools are flunking when it comes to federal standards. Some 50 of the schools that achieved 800 or more on their "growth API" scores last year failed to make "adequate yearly progress" on the No Child Left behind law. That number is expected to grow this year as the federal government ratchets up its standards.

Confused? State and federal officials need to get together and agree on one testing regimen -- and then make the results less opaque and contradictory. If test results are so hard to interpret, what's the point of giving the test in the first place?

— Editorial
San Francisco Chronicle


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