7 Schools Expecting Cash for Raising API Scores Scrutinized

Tests: the state may cut rewards if it finds too many children were excused from taking the Stanford 9

Seven Ventura County schools that are expecting cash rewards for raising their state test scores may not get them, state officials said Wednesday.

At least 10% of the parents at the schools excused their children from taking the Stanford 9 exam, the cornerstone of a state accountability system. As a result, the Academic Performance Index scores at those campuses may not reflect the student population.

“The fundamental premise is that the API scores are representative of the entire student body,” said Doug Stone, a spokesman for the state Department of Education. “If they are not, it degrades the system.”

Under state law, parents have a right to request exemptions for their children, although districts cannot solicit those waivers. An average of 1.2% of parents throughout California chose to have their children excused from the exam. But at some schools, as many as half of the parents requested exemptions for their children.

Statewide, at least 10% of the parents at about 135 schools requested exemptions.

Some parents said they requested waivers because they thought the exam was a waste of time and placed an unnecessary burden on children. But more parents said they did so because their children spoke limited English or had learning disabilities.

“The test makes no provisions for any kid that has any type of handicap,” said Steve Blum, president of the Ventura Unified Education Assn., who exempted his 10-year-old daughter. “For kids with special needs, it’s just not good. It sets them up for failure.”

In Ventura County, the state is looking into whether the number of students who took the test is representative of the student body at three campuses in Hueneme Elementary, three in Ocean View Elementary, two in Ventura Unified and one in Oxnard Elementary. Seven of those nine schools are expecting financial awards because they met their API improvement targets, but the state has not determined how much money schools will receive.

Administrators say they are not driven by financial incentives, but rather by the desire to raise student achievement. “We’ve never been in this testing system for rewards,” said Nancy Carroll, superintendent of the Ocean View Elementary School District. “It’s not our motivation.”

Superintendents and principals were notified last month about the state’s concerns. They were then instructed to send letters to the Department of Education, explaining whether they believe their API scores are representative of their student populations.

State educators will use those letters and the data to determine the validity of the scores. They are worried that some schools tried to inflate their API scores by not testing students who traditionally score low, including poor students and those who speak limited English.

In the Hueneme Elementary School District, Supt. Robert Fraisse said he took the news that the state was concerned about the API scores at three of his schools very seriously. “We’ve been working really hard to improve our test scores, and there is a lot of pride in that growth,” he said.

So Fraisse and his staff analyzed the data and determined that the API scores still represent the student populations and are valid, despite the percentage of parents who exempted their children. Some parents at those schools are opposed to Spanish-speaking students taking the Stanford 9, which is given in English, Fraisse said.

Carroll of the Ocean View School District said she also thinks the scores in her district are still valid. The three schools with high percentages of exemptions also have active parent groups, Carroll said. Many are the parents who fought to keep bilingual programs in the district after Proposition 227, she said, and they want their children tested in their native languages.

“It’s very discouraging to be questioned like this,” Carroll said. “This school has taken the accountability system very seriously. What’s differed in Ocean View is the significant emphasis on bilingual education.”

Test Exemptions

At least 10% of parents at nine Ventura County schools requested exemptions for their children on the Stanford 9 exam. These schools may have invalid API scores.

Hueneme Elementary School District

Haycox Elementary: 23%

Parkview Elementary: 14%

Sunkist Elementary: 11%

Ocean View Elementary School District

Laguna Vista Elementary: 17%

Mar Vista Elementary: 50%

Tierra Vista Elementary: 28%

Oxnard Elementary School District

Cesar Chavez Elementary: 11%

Ventura Unified School District

E. P. Foster Elementary: 15%

Sheridan Way Elementary: 17%

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