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Charter schools fail to make top ratings


August 23. 2013 6:52PM
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LIMA — While 92 percent of the state’s public school districts scored effective or higher on this year’s report cards, only 26 percent of charter schools did. Locally, no charter school fell in the top three ratings.



“It says to us that they are not doing so well with the money the state is spending for charter schools. While 92 percent of public schools are doing pretty doggone well in comparison,” said Shawnee schools Superintendent Paul Nardini, whose school for the second consecutive year landed at Excellent with Distinction, the highest possible rating.



Only four schools, or 1 percent, of charter schools are at the highest rating. That compares to 138, or 23 percent, of public schools. Sixty-nine, or 19 percent, of charter schools are at the lowest rating, academic emergency. Only two public schools are there. The information is being circulated around the state by a group of superintendents in Lorain County, questioning the state’s investment into charter schools.



“A lot of community schools are working with highly at-risk populations,” said Connie Houser, superintendent of the West Central Learning Academy. “Like everything else, there are probably some community schools that should not be in existence, and there are probably some traditional schools that might be questionable too.”



Quest Academy, the first charter school to open in Lima in 2001, remains in Academic Emergency for the second year. Principal Andrea Guice said Adequate Yearly Progress is the reason for the rating. AYP measures success of student subgroups, such as racial minorities and economically disadvantaged.



“It is very difficult for us because our student mobility rate is so high,” she said. “It is difficult when students are in and out. It is making us rethink our policy in allowing students to come mid-year.”



Guice said the school sees success for those pupils coming to the school early on and staying. The school goes through the fifth-grade. Ninety-eight percent are economically disadvantaged. The school is working on getting pupils focused on the importance of the test and then celebrating successes.



“We are focusing a lot on test-taking strategies and resiliency,” she said. “We have found in the last couple of years that students tend to get burned out with the test. They get tired and start circling anything. They just want to be done.”



Heir Force Community School spent a year at the Effective rating, but dropped a spot back to continuous improvement this year. Director Darwin Lofton said one problem is pupils coming into the school academically behind.



“We are strategizing on getting these kids up because what we have found is that the longer kids are with us the better they do academically,” he said. “But when they come to us at an older age, if they are already behind, we have to catch them up and it takes a little longer.”



The school has created a summer student transition and enrichment program to try to help pupils catch up. It is also using after-school tutors and designating days to break up students and work with them where they are academically.



The West Central Learning Academy remained in continuous improvement. Houser said it wants to do better, but there are challenges when working with students who are high-risk academically. Those include students with illnesses that make keeping up and graduating on time tough.



“We have a high sense of wanting to help students that we see are going to fall through the cracks,” she said. “At the same time, we look at some of our gifted students and we are going to try to spend a little more time on them.”



There are not as many gifted students, but the school is trying to do more for them, including bringing a forensics camp to school next summer. Every student, gifted or not, now has a mentor, and staff members are reviewing every students’ progress from week to week.



“We are much more personalized this year than we have ever been, and students are responding,” she said. “We are very encouraged by that.”



The learning academy is much smaller than the other Lima-based community schools. Houser said while small numbers can be positive, it also negatively impacts the grade card. One student not performing well, she said, has a big impact on the school.



Like public school officials, charter school leaders question whether the test is the best and only way to measure pupil success.



“We can never measure anything on just one instrument. That test is just one tool of measurement. You have to look at the entire picture,” Guice said. “You can’t measure a child’s whole academic life on one test.”



While he encourages parents to look at report cards and see how their children and school are doing, Loften said it is about parent choice, adding that parents also care about intangible things.



“Do they feel like their kids are cared for, are respected, are parents listened to and heard, are their ideas brought to the table,” he said.



The report card results for charter schools rubs public officials, especially as Gov. John Kasich has advocated for more of them.



“They are throwing a lot of money at the charter schools and taking away from public schools and for whose benefit,” Nardini said. “Are kids really benefiting? Public school kids are losing educational resources and charters are gaining and are not being successful.”





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