Thursday, May 12, 2005

More on Charter School Test Scores

In a previous post I commented on Cache District's recent release of Thomas Edison Charter School's CRT test results in negative comparison to their own scores. I thought I might ask a few people what they thought of it to see if they would confirm my impressions of it and maybe add a little bit of information. So I asked a few teachers and Mr. Budge, the principal, about the scores.

Basically, they confirmed what I'd previously written, and had a few things to add. One teacher commented that one of the first grade teachers misunderstood the purpose of the tests and allowed her class to not finish. This teacher also commented that the charter school tends to attract more of the sort of "free thinkers" that would bubble in a picture on a standardized test's answer sheet.

Another teacher thought Cache District's release of the scores in this way was deliberate and that by doing so Cache had "picked a fight they can't win," and put a good portion of the responsibility for the scores on factors that caused the teacher turnover which I had noted before.

Mr. Budge added that our first year scores were actually better than our second year scores. He also released (via the Edison Express newsletter) the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) results. These are given to 3rd and 5th graders in October, so these scores are from October 2004, our third year in operation. According to these scores, in all subjects we are at least five percentiles over Cache district-- in most areas, at least 10 percentiles over.

Mr. Budge commented in the Edison Express:
Many of you are aware of the comparison data recently pointed out by the Cache County School District, showing U-PASS results for the Spring of 2004. This type of information is also available for all schools and districts at the website. Most school people know that it takes at least three years for new charter schools to stabilize and produce intended academic results. We are already seeing the results of the stabilization in this, our third year... We expect that the results of the 2005 U-PASS tests will be in line with the [ITBS score data].
In addition, I am now beginning to question the accuracy of Cache District's data. I took Mr. Budge's suggestion and went to the USOE website, where I found our 2004 U-PASS data. I did some quick spot checks, and Cache's numbers don't match USOE's numbers. For example, according to the results released by Cache, 77.2% of first graders at TECS met either the Substantial or Sufficient levels of mastery in Language Arts. According to USOE's data, this number is 81%. I spot-checked their 3rd grade Language Arts data for TECS and for Greenville Elementary (which I chose because it is just a couple of blocks away from TECS) and it checks out with USOE's. But if some of their data doesn't agree, one has to wonder where they got it from and how much of it is accurate. If I didn't have a house to clean and a family to manage and a business to run and pizza dough to make, I would check the data more thoroughly.

At any rate, whether Cache is picking a fight or not, I don't think they can win either. The fact that TECS is opening a south campus next year speaks for itself. Clearly, demand for the charter school model is so high that people will put their kids on a waiting list a mile long to get them into one. Having higher test scores is a very viscerally satisfying slap in the districts' faces; but ultimately, as Mr. Budge pointed out, this isn't about competition, this is about serving the needs of children and parents. I'll leave you with a quote from this wise, diplomatic man from his recent interview with the Herald-Journal:
...the money follows the child. If a local district might have received that child and that child goes somewhere else and the money follows the child, they might perceive that as competition. I don't think that we look at it so much as competitive. It really depends on your point of view. We are simply trying to honor the wishes of those that desire this type of school option...
Because we are customer oriented, we don't have a mission to secure a certain percentage of the educational population. It's the customers that determine how far our existence continues. In my sense, because my main focus is the operation of the academic program, we want to accommodate as many parents as need our services.