Pa Department of Education's recalculation of charter school test scores shows decline in achievement

As required by the U.S Department of Education (U.S. DOE), the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has recalculated the academic performance of charter schools for 2011-12, with the data showing a marked decline in the number of schools that met targets for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and an increase in those charter schools that are in warning, improvement or corrective action status.

The recalculations affected 144 bricks-and-mortar charter schools, and 12 cyber charter schools. According to the recalculations released in January:

• In total, 34 fewer charter schools met AYP, dropping from 77 (49%) to 43 (28%).

• No cyber charter schools met AYP.

Federal education officials agreed with PSBA’s objection to PDE using more lenient criteria to evaluate charter school achievement for Adequate Yearly Progress purposes and in November denied PDE’s request to do so.

A request by PDE to calculate charter school AYP by the same method used for districts instead of traditional schools was submitted by the department to the U.S. DOE in late summer 2012, but U.S. DOE did not act on the request until late November 2012. PDE went ahead with the calculation change without federal approval when it released 2012 AYP results in September. As part of the denial, U.S. DOE has said PDE must assess charter schools by the same standard as traditional schools and has ordered Pennsylvania officials to recalculate charter school results which have just been completed by PDE.

PSBA had submitted a formal letter of objection to U.S. DOE in early October once it discovered the calculation change for charter schools had not been approved and was still under consideration.

In the objection letter from PSBA to U.S. DOE, the association argued this change for Pennsylvania is a violation of two key principles at the heart of the federal NCLB requirements. First, NCLB requires that every public school is to be evaluated in the same way and in accordance with the same criteria and methodology. Second, NCLB requires that schools be held accountable for the achievement of all students in the school, not just some of them.

“The most recent calculations again reinforce that charter and cyber charter schools are not performing as well as we would like,” said Stuart L. Knade, PSBA interim executive director. “Each year millions of public dollars are being redirected to these institutions at the detriment of traditional schools, which continue to show better academic progress. This certainly underscores the need for charter school reform related to equitable funding and accountability; also, charter school expansion should not continue without more rigorous application of renewal and application standards by PDE.”

PSBA had expressed concerns that this attempt to artificially inflate the number of charter schools regarded as making AYP served to mask deficiencies in charter schools and deny families the information necessary to make informed choices, misleading them about the charter schools they are considering choosing, or that they already attend. It also had the effect of delaying crucial improvement and corrective action measures for a failing charter school, or prematurely ending those measures for a charter school that was already in improvement or corrective action status. These academic achievement issues should be critical considerations in the charter school renewal process.

Below are tables with a side-by-side comparison of the AYP numbers for charter and cyber charter schools.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association is a nonprofit statewide association of public school boards, pledged to the highest ideals of local lay leadership for the public schools of the commonwealth. Founded in 1895, PSBA was the first school boards association established in the United States.

Provided by PDE.