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What Does State Testing Mean?

What Does State Testing Mean

As many students across Orange County finished the last of the state-required testing, some parents are left to wonder why we even need state testing and what does it all mean.

The requirement of state testing is often under fire. However, the outcome can be one of many resources that can help schools, teachers, and parents have a better understanding of how students learn. Thankfully, the California Department of Education (CDE) collects and shares data on testing outcomes of districts and schools within our state. Any person can view this data at the CDE website.

Visiting the website testing data can be overwhelming for any of us. There is much to decipher. The place I would encourage you to try first is comparing schools within your child’s district. It breaks down outcomes and you can easily see how your child’s school scores within your own community.

The most important score is called “Similar School Ranking.” This is the score where schools are ranked compared to 100 other schools of the same demographics throughout the state. Another important outcome is “Statewide Ranking” where schools are compared to like schools in the state. Both scores are ranked between 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest).

The most recent data (2012) shows a large range of outcomes just in Orange County. Irvine Unified has eight 10/10 schools. Santa Anna Unified has one 10/10 school. Tustin, Huntington Beach City, and Saddleback all have zero 10/10 schools. Capistrano Unified has one 10/10 school. A new charter school, Oxford Prep Academy S. Orange County, received this prestigious score in its first year of existence.

Here is a break down of what each category means to your school outcome:

Number of Students Included: Indicates how many students at the school took the test. Some parents opt their children out of the test for various reasons.

Base API (Academic Performance Index): Each school is average on a scale of 200-1,000 points indicating the overall school academic performance on the state test.

Statewide Ranking: Compares schools of similar type to the entire state from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest). Special Education schools do not receive this ranking.

Similar School Ranking: Compares each school with 100 other similar schools in the state. The state compares schools with the same demographics: ethnicity; socioeconomic status; English learners; fully credentialed teachers; average class size; gifted students; and students with disabilities.

Growth Target: All schools are supposed to earn at least 800 in California. If they do not, the state gives them a target growth number based on the API of the previous year. The school will earn either an “A” for achieving the target of 800 or a number of what the school will need to achieve the target growth the following year.

API Target: This is a sum of the API Growth Target and the previous year Base API. Any school that received an 800 or more is expected to maintain at least an 800.

Knowing how your child’s school is assessed by the state is one tool to have a better understanding of how your school meets the needs of its students. Some parents will be happy to see the scores, yet others, not so much. The most important part in knowing this data is that parents can use it to start important and overdue discussions with your school’s teachers, principal, superintendent, and especially, other parents.

So, the next time you are at a Bunko gathering, sports field, play date, or lunch take some time to share and discuss your knowledge of state testing outcomes with others and what it means to you. Encourage other parents to take the important step of having a more in-depth understanding of education and how it works. You can become your own child’s education advocate.

Julie Collier is a parent, California credentialed teacher, and Orange County resident.  In 2007, she created Parents Advocate League, a grassroots, parent-empowerment organization dedicated to student-focused education policy. Parents Advocate League has members throughout California who participate in local and state education reform movements. You can join Parents Advocate League by visiting


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