Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sonoma Valley's Elementary Schools Are Better Than Ever?

Prestwood Elementary
As most parents are unsurprised to learn, almost all students in California's elementary schools are tested annually.  Based on those test results, every school is assigned an Academic Performance Index score (API) from 1 to 10.  Those scores are available on the Internet. Google's taken that data, and has integrated it with a web application called the "Google Public Data Explorer."

I have a 5-year-old daughter starting kindergarten in 8 months.  Our neighborhood school is Sassarini, in the Sonoma Valley Unified School District.  I've used Google's service to make some graphs of the performance of Sassarini in the state rankings over the last decade.

Statewide Ranks of Sonoma Valley,
Kenwood, and Rincon Valley Public Schools
"Education Statistics of California,"
Google Public Data Explorer

Sassarini starts at a 6 when I bought my home in 2004, but as of 2011, it has declined to a 1.  The drop in apparent quality isn't limited to Sassarini -- all the rest of the schools in Sonoma Valley show the same decline.  Even Prestwood, generally considered the best public elementary school, has dropped from a 9 to a 6 in that time period.

For comparison's sake, I reviewed the condition of the schools north of Sonoma Valley -- the schools in Kenwood and Rincon Valley.  None of those schools is below an 8 on the statewide rankings. Austin Creek, the closest Santa Rosa school to Sonoma Valley, is a 10.

Given the relative decline of the Sonoma Valley elementary schools in statewide rankings, I'd therefore expect that students at Sassarini who are similar to my daughter will, in general, score lower over time on standardized tests.

API, White Ethnicity, Sonoma Valley Public Schools
"Education Statistics of California," 
Google Public Data Explorer

But the data says I'm wrong. The graph on the right demonstrates the API score for each school in Sonoma Valley, for the "white" ethnicity.  Flowery's at 843, Prestwood is at 840, and Sassarini is at 823.

These are essentially equivalent scores, and all of them exceed state requirements. And all are higher than they were a decade ago.

I realize there are a number of reasons that the ranking can decline while the API score for a particular subgroup may remain the same -- for instance, if there is a significant change in the population of the schools. But a change in the makeup of the student body does not strike me as supporting the conclusion that the quality of the schools has declined. If anything, the data indicates that the elementary schools -- all of them -- have improved ...