California’s Academic Performance Index rankings were released today, showing how well schools score compared to all schools in the state and compared to schools with similar demographics. A strangely dense San Jose Merc story points out that similar schools aren’t similar in quality. The reporter doesn’t seem to realize that the whole point is to show that schools with similar demographics can operate differently and reach different results. To coin a phrase, it’s not a bug; it’s a feature.
According to the state of California, James Lick High School and the Preuss School are similar.
Most students at both schools are children of working-class Latino parents who did not graduate from four-year colleges. So, the state says, the two schools — and 98 others around California with similar demographics — should be measured against each other.
But Lick and Preuss could hardly be more different — in what they offer academically, and how their students perform.
The stark contrast between the two schools illustrates the problem with the state’s computer-generated groupings of 100 “similar” schools that result in rankings of 1-10 released Tuesday . . .
So it raises the question: Is the state being fair when it compares Lick to Preuss? And is there a better way?
Lick’s API score is 572, which gives it a rank of 1 out of 10 when compared to all schools, 2 out of 10 when compared to schools with similar demographics. Lick offers few advanced courses and doesn’t track how many students go on to college.
Preuss, a charter school affiliated with University of California-San Diego, posts an API of 845, making it a 10 in both categories. At Preuss, which runs on a longer school day and year, all students take college-prep courses and one third take Advanced Placement courses; 90 percent of graduates go on to four-year colleges. In terms of family income, ethnicity and parents’ education, Preuss resembles Lick.
By the way, Downtown College Prep, the subject of my book, boosted its API rating to a 4 statewide, a 10 compared to similar schools.