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PSBA investigation: PDE using unapproved formula to artificially inflate charter school AYP numbers

10/5/2012

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has implemented a new way of determining whether charter schools have met student achievement milestones for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The new method is less stringent than the standards that must be met by traditional public schools, and which until this year were also applied to charter schools. As a result, 44 of the 77 charter schools that PDE has recently classified as having made AYP for 2011-12 in fact fell short of the targets for academic performance that other public schools had to meet, some even declining in proficiency percentages rather than making gains. In some cases missing the performance targets does not rule out the possibility of making AYP via the safe harbor, confidence interval, safe harbor with confidence interval, or growth model methods, for which there is insufficient data access to base a calculation in every case.

PSBA also has learned that PDE has not obtained the necessary approval by the U.S. Department of Education to implement such a change. PDE submitted a request in August 2012 for approval of revisions to its accountability system but that request has not yet been acted upon. Under the methodology set forth in the only currently approved Accountability Workbook for Pennsylvania, AYP for charter schools is supposed to be determined as it has been in past years, in the same way as for other public schools.

Consequently, claims by proponents for charter school expansion that charter schools overall appear to be outperforming traditional public schools based on the percentage of schools making AYP this year are largely false. When the standards currently having federal approval are applied to charter schools, the numbers show that it is the other way around.

Currently approved standards for individual Pennsylvania schools require that for a school to meet the academic performance component of AYP based on PSSA testing, the overall student body must meet the annual targets for the percentage of students scoring proficient or above, on both math and reading assessments. In addition, the necessary percentage of proficient students in each measurable subgroup (students grouped by race, ethnicity, English language learners, special needs, economically disadvantaged, etc.) must be attained in order for the school to make AYP.

Under the new method PDE is now applying to charter schools, the school's overall student body would not have to meet PSSA proficiency percentage targets. Instead, a school's student body would be divided into up to three grade spans (elementary grades 3-5, middle grades 6-8, and high school grades 9-12), and if the students in at least one of those grade spans met proficiency percentage targets, including the subgroups within that span, the entire school would be regarded as having met that component of AYP.

Under this methodology, the proficiency percentage of a charter school's overall student body could decline, and yet PDE would still classify the charter school as having made AYP. Another result is that the assessment performance of charter school students in the other grade spans simply will not matter for AYP purposes, allowing those children to be left behind without consequences for the school.

PSBA is concerned that this attempt to artificially inflate the number of charter schools regarded as making AYP will help 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 will have 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.

Historical data indicate that making AYP under NCLB has been a significant struggle for Pennsylvania charter schools, with a consistently lower percentage of charter schools making AYP than traditional public schools. If not for the less stringent AYP calculation for charter schools used by PDE for 2011-12, that trend would continue this year as well.

Due to the change being implemented by PDE, AYP no longer has the same meaning for individual charter schools as it does for other individual public schools in the state, and that families and other stakeholders no longer can compare the performance of particular schools on an apples-to-apples basis. It also will hurt children by excusing failing charter schools from engaging in the performance improvement measures that NCLB dictates should be triggered by repeated failure to make AYP.

PSBA further regards this change for Pennsylvania as 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 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.

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