Monday, July 18, 2005

Public Charter Schools: Disappointment In Arizona

In Arizona, supporters of public charter schools will be disappointed with the latest standardized test results reports the The Arizona Republic: (emphasis added)

AIMS [Ed's Note: Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, info here] scores for sophomores at charter schools continue to lag dramatically behind their counterparts in district schools.

Test results released this week by the state showed that just 36 percent of charter-school sophomores passed math on the Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards test, compared with 73 percent at traditional schools. About half of the charter-school sophomores passed reading and writing vs. 77 percent at district schools.

The continuing trend in overall test scores will be among factors that the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools will consider at its meeting this fall when members meet to develop criteria for the first time for closing down poorly performing schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded but have more freedom over curriculum than traditional district schools.

This year's AIMS scores show charter elementary and middle schools trail only slightly behind traditional district schools overall. For example, 74 percent of third-grade charter-school students passed math compared with 76 percent in district schools.

But by the sophomore year of high school, the first time the test counts toward a high school diploma, charter scores lag significantly.

In 2003, a report by the Arizona auditor general criticized the state charter board for failing to provide enough oversight.

Board members say it's a new era.

"The board is very committed to holding schools accountable," said Kristen Jordison, the board's executive director.

The board isn't expected to close a school simply for having low AIMS scores because that would unfairly penalize schools that work with large, at-risk groups of students. Many high school charter schools cater to students who struggle or have dropped out of traditional high schools.

Some schools don't have anything to worry about when it comes to AIMS.

Every sophomore and junior, 93 students, at Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix passed the AIMS test.

The school, near Central Avenue and McDowell Road, serves college-bound students who are interested in the arts.

There is much more to read right here.

Even though these results may be somewhat disappointing, as stated by the Republic, charter high schools often are geared toward very challenging student populations. The source of concern regarding elementary and middle schools is that most folks would have expected them to do better than traditional schools, not merely in a statistical dead heat.

It will be most interesting to see what next year's results bring and see what, if any, trends develop.

We think that the charter school concept adds an exciting (and often innovative) dimension to education reform and would very much like to see these schools succeed.
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