By Doug McRae
California’s 2012 Academic Performance Index (API) results, released Thursday, in general show small but steady gains similar to the last four years. But a deeper look at the results shows not only inflation contributing to the gains but also a substantial policy shift toward lower expectations for special education students in California.
The API trend data inflation is due to the introduction of a new test for special education students over the past five years: the California Modified Assessments, or CMAs. These tests were introduced to give selected students greater “access” to the statewide testing system, by making tests easier than the regular California Standards Tests (CSTs) given to all other students. When the CMAs were approved in 2007, the plan was that roughly 2 percent of total enrollment (or about 20 percent of special education enrollment) would qualify to take CMAs instead of CSTs. A major criterion for taking a CMA rather than a CST was that a special education student had to score Far Below Basic or Below Basic on a CST the previous year; the decision whether a student should take a CMA or a CST was left to each student’s Individual Education Program (IEP) team.