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No As or Bs for local charters on state cards

Springfield leader says letter grades don’t tell the whole story.


No charter school in Clark or Champaign counties received an A or B grade in any of the performance and progress measures under the state’s new school report card system.

The new report cards were released last month for the 2012-13 school year.

“There are not that many praiseworthy charter schools in the state of Ohio,” said Aaron Churchill, a policy analyst for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative nonprofit education policy think tank that sponsors 11 charter schools in Ohio. “Part of that is because most are located in inner cities where we know schools face other issues, like poverty.”

Springfield Preparatory and Fitness Academy, a K-8 school, met 6 of the 14 state standards it was graded on and earned an F in that category.

The academy, operated by Columbus-based Performance Academies, also earned a C and F, respectively, in the student performance categories of performance index and annual measurable objectives (AMO) — formerly called annual yearly progress as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

It also earned a C, F and D, respectively, in the overall, disabled and lowest 20 percent value-added indicators, which measures student progress rather than performance.

The familiar ratings like “effective” and “excellent” were done away with in the new report card system, with the state opting to give schools and districts grade ratings of A, B, C, D and F.

While parents and the public might be tempted to average those grades to get an overall grade for their schools, it will be impossible to calculate an overall grade until 2015, the Ohio Department of Education said. That’s because not every new report card category has been introduced, and so they’re not yet comprehensive.

Performance Academies CEO and Founder Myrrha P. Satow said the typically-lower number of students tested at charter schools can mean greater fluctuations on its overall scores from year to year.

A handful of fifth graders at Springfield Prep, for example, received lower scores on state testing last year and, because of that, its scores fell, she said. The school was rated “excellent” in 2010-11 and “effective” in 2011-12.

“(Springfield Prep) is so small, seven or eight kids make the difference,” Satow said. “We tested 95 kids, so if you have seven or eight kids who test better or worse, you’re in a whole new category.”

Meanwhile, its third and fourth graders, for example, had high marks.

One of the strong points of any charter school, she said, is that they can focus more on the individual students who are struggling but will benefit from smaller class sizes.

“We’re going to look at individual skills with those seven or eight students and work really hard to close the gap for them. It’s a different story for us than it is for a district (that might look at its entire curriculum or make sweeping changes),” she said.

She warned too against comparing charter school scores to the overall scores of public districts and to other public school buildings and charter schools that serve different grade levels.

“It’s hard to do apples-to-apples comparisons between most charters and districts because so many of the charters are K-8 or they’re K-5, and the districts of course include the high schools,” she added.

And even comparing overall scores doesn’t give a good picture of what’s happening at a school, charter or otherwise, she said.

“There’s more of an understanding as you peel back the layers and you start looking at individual grade levels, individual subject areas, comparing for example performance index scores in third grade reading or third grade math,” Satow said.

Springfield Prep was one of three other charters in the two counties receiving letter grades this year. Others included A.B. Graham Academy in St. Paris, Urbana Community School and Springfield Academy of Excellence.

A.B. Graham Academy, a community school conversion sponsored by Graham Local School District, met the most state standards of any charter school in the two counties at 14 of 24. For that category, it earned a D.

A community school conversion is a charter that serves the majority of its students through a dropout prevention and recovery program and is sponsored by a traditional public school district. The district can apply for an exception to have the charter’s performance not affect its own report card, according to ODE.

In other performance-based categories, Graham Academy earned a C in the performance index, an F in AMO, and an F in four- and five-year graduation rates.

As for categories that measure student progress, it earned a D on the overall value-added category, but received no report on the value-added categories of disabled and lowest 20 percent.

A call to Graham Academy Superintendent, Principal and Director Scott A. Howell seeking comment on the academy’s scores was not returned Thursday.

Springfield Academy of Excellence, a community school startup like Springfield Prep, met zero of the nine state standards it was expected to meet, receiving an F, and earned a D in performance index and an F in AMO.

It earned an F in the overall and disabled value-added categories and a D in the lowest 20 percent value-added category.

Urbana Community School, an online community school conversion sponsored by Urbana City Schools, was not rated in any category except for four- and five-year graduation rate categories, receiving an F in both.

None of the schools receiving letter grades this year was given a grade in the gifted value-added category.

In that category and others, no rating was given when the school didn’t have enough students to evaluate.

A fifth local charter school, Life Skills Center-Springfield which served 16-21 year-olds, was not given letter grades this year, according to its report card.

The dropout recovery school is operating this year as Life Skills High School of Springfield after its former board of directors severed ties earlier this year with White Hat Management.

According to the ODE, a dropout recovery school is a charter that serves a majority of its students through a dropout prevention and recovery program and can apply for a waiver from closure.

Of the measures that were reported, only 30 percent of its students passed all five high school assessment tests compared to about 50 percent of other similar dropout recovery charters in the state.

Its graduation rates were also poor when compared to other so-called dropout recovery schools in the state, according to its report card.

Its rates were 2.7 percent in four years, 11.1 percent in five years and 13.6 percent in six years. Graduation rates at other similar charters statewide were 20 percent, 22 percent and 19.6 percent, respectively.

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