Policy brief

Fixing the Academic Performance Index

Morgan Polikoff
University of Southern California
Andrew McEachin
RAND Corporation & Pardee RAND Graduate School


The Academic Performance Index (API) is the centerpiece of California’s state assessment and accountability system. With the recent passage of SB1458 and the pending reauthorization of both state and federal accountability legislation, there is now an unprecedented opportunity to improve the API for next generation accountability in California. In this policy brief Morgan S. Polikoff and Andrew McEachin draw on their own previous work and more than a decade’s worth of research on effective accountability policy design to describe the lessons that have been learned and to propose policy changes that would improve the API. The research literature on accountability systems has produced a number of key findings with regard to API and API-like measures of school performance. For instance, the API is heavily influenced by student demographics, as are other status measures of achievement. Year-to-year changes in API, often heralded by schools and the media, are highly unstable and do not reflect sustained improvement. The API is biased against small schools and high schools and in favor of larger schools and elementary schools. Perhaps most importantly, the API is too narrowly focused on test-based measures of performance. Fortunately, many of these problems are relatively simple to fix, as the operation of current accountability systems in other states and some school districts has made clear. The authors conclude with a number of recommendations for improving the API, including a) tracking the achievement of individual students across years; b) using multiple years of school-level data to measure growth in achievement; c) incorporating both growth and levels of achievement in identifying schools for intervention/support; and d) exploring alternative measures of school performance. While these solutions will not solve all of California’s educational problems, they will certainly help make our state’s assessment and accountability systems more effective in determining where to target improvement efforts.

Suggested citationPolikoff, M., & McEachin, A. (2013, January). Fixing the Academic Performance Index [Policy brief]. Policy Analysis for California Education. https://edpolicyinca.org/publications/fixing-academic-performance-index