The startling results of the U.S. Department of Education’s mandated recalculations of the Adequate Yearly Progress — AYP — of all the charter schools in the commonwealth has caused immediate fallout, now that the recalculations show only 28 percent of all charter schools met AYP, as compared to 49 percent determined under the calculations made last fall.
According to the School Boards Association of Pennsylvania, the recalculation led to 34 fewer charter schools making AYP; that drop from 77 charter schools to 43 represent a 21 percent decrease. With the recalculation, no cyber charter school in the commonwealth made AYP, seven fewer charters attained the “making progress” designation, while 27 more charters received the “warning” designation. Finally, the recalculation also shows that a further nine charter schools are in either of the two stages of “corrective action.”
While the USDE nor the Pennsylvania Department of Education mentioned the names of the schools that failed to meet AYP under the new calculations, Truebright Science Academy Charter school is one of the handful of charters that have made AYP in consecutive years — a strong showing on its own, but made more impressive given the fact that not too long ago, there was talk that the state wouldn’t renew Truebright’s charter.
For Truebright CEO Bekir Duz, the recalculations have both good and bad points, but were overall meaningless for his school, as it has made AYP under both calculation methods.
“We were confident in our PSSA performance, and we are only bolstered by this new information from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. It is further proof that Truebright’s curriculum and staff are successfully educating students to the highest standard in Pennsylvania,” said Duz.
Truebright is but one example of a charter school thriving in spite of the recalculation and a growing anti-charter school movement. In addition to AYP, Truebright continues to meet the state’s standard for Pennsylvania Academic Growth in both reading and math.
According to the Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS), Truebright showed moderate evidence of exceeding the state standard for academic growth in math at the high school level and met the state standard for academic growth in reading at the high school level. The PVAAS website also shows that Truebright’s graduation rate hovers near 100 percent, while traditional neighborhood schools are graduating students at a rate closer to 60 percent.
“The news from PDE combined with our track record of academic success is ongoing proof that Truebright Science Academy Charter School is a valuable and lasting addition to the City of Philadelphia,” said Duz. “Truebright made AYP on initial calculations in September, and then the state decided to recalculate, and Truebright maintained AYP under those recalculations, and we are grateful about that. But we were expecting this.
“I think in Philadelphia, 23 charter schools out of 80 made AYP under the recalculation, compared to 43 in the original calculation. But when you compare it to district-run charter schools, only 19 percent of those made AYP, and right now, 29 percent of [non-school district] charter schools made AYP, so charters are still doing better than [traditional] public schools.
“But the recalculation also proves that both charters and the school district have a lot of work to do.”
It’s properly measuring that work that leaves charter operators puzzled by the move to recalculate the AYP scores, given that charter schools operate under a unique set of rules and often take in students with severe learning, behavioral and societal deficiencies.
“We take the failing students from failing schools and bring them into our schools, and we are held accountable the same way [the traditional school districts are]. They have to take into consideration the demographics of these children, the economics, if they are fed properly, if the come from a single-parent household or what they are exposed to in their community,” said Dr. Walter D. Palmer, founder of the Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School and one of the trailblazers in the fight to establish school choice and the charter school system in Pennsylvania. “I think the federal government is wrong. Charter schools should be measured as a district, not as individual schools. The state got that and understood it. But because of pressures from the unions and special interests who petitioned the federal government, the recalculation came about.
“Withstanding all of that, there are still a significant number of charter schools that are doing better than public schools.”
Confusion and the uneven measuring system, Palmer says, plague the AYP system itself. For example, if a charter school is judged on 20 AYP measurements and fails at any of the 20, then that charter school is designated as having not made AYP.
“There is a hostile white takeover of black education in urban centers across America, and the public needs to be educated on AYP, as it has a number of fields in it. If I had 20 AYP fields to look at, including attendance, consistently providing lunch and college-bound rate and I missed one, I wouldn’t make AYP,” Palmer explained. “So, look at the fields. Say I have 98 percent attendance rate, 95 percent of our graduates are college bound, had a 100 percent graduation rate for three years running and 100 percent testing proficient-to-advanced — but I failed to put how many free lunches I provided — as a charter school operator, I failed.
“And the public says, “Ah, look, another failing charter school. We really need the state to help us develop a tool that really demonstrates the charter school reality, and it cannot be a one-size-fits-all measurement,” Palmer added, noting that a proper measurement would include safety, student interaction and parental satisfaction. “Using the same criteria [used for traditional public schools] is a fallacy.”