High school charter students lag on AIMS test
Jul. 19, 2007
Earlier grades keeping pace
Elementary students in Arizona's charter schools are steadily improving their
performance, nearly matching their peers in district schools at every grade
level, according to AIMS test results.
But as charter students reach high school age, their performance on the reading,
writing and math test plummets. That gap persists despite the fact that charter
students' scores are inching upward.
Supporters say the slow but steady progress proves the market-driven charter
school concept is responding to parent demands for academically strong schools.
The state also is pressuring charters to improve student achievement. "These
charter school operators are getting a lot more savvy about what it is they need
to do and are really taking the public trust given them seriously," said Mark
Francis of the Arizona Charter Schools Association.
Charter schools are run by privately owned businesses or agencies that receive
state education money based on the number of students enrolled.
The number of charter owners fell in 2006-07 to 355, down 20 in one year.
But a record 93,210 students attended charters, representing nearly 10 percent
of all K-12 students.
Charter schools gained more state and federal grants over the past three years,
but that cash came along with pressure to improve student achievement or get
slapped with a "failing" label. It sparked change in charter schools and alerted
parents to go shopping for the best, Francis said. Charter schools that can't
market themselves as high performing can't attract students, which is deadly for
schools that rely on word of mouth.
The gain on Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards for elementary charters
was most evident in eighth-grade math scores. Although the percentage passing in
district schools fell in math from 63 percent to 62 percent from 2005 to 2007,
it rose in charters from 54 percent to 60 percent.
The weak spot for charters was 10th grade, where students struggled in every
subject tested. Supporters say charter high schools tend to serve the poorest
students along with those who struggled academically in district high schools
and sought an alternative.
The charter association, along with the state, is providing charter owners
academic training to help them survive and excel. As for owners who can't meet
the demands, "We're going to counsel them into new professional career goals,"
Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of public instruction, said he wants charter
and district schools to work together to improve student achievement.
"One of my themes is to get charter schools and district schools to stop seeing
each other as competitors and to see each other as engaged in the same
enterprise," Horne said. "You walk into a classroom and you see good or bad
teaching, and whether it's a district school or charter school is not relevant."