Friday, June 23, 2000

Charter schools' scores trail

Public schools outperform on 4th-, 6th-grade proficiency tests

By By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Charter school students lag behind their public school counterparts on every section of the fourth- and sixth-grade Ohio Proficiency Tests.

        And, state figures show, fewer fourth-grade charter students passed this year.

        The numbers were released by the Ohio Department of Education as the charter movement enters its third year in Ohio, a period marked by dramatic growth.

        Charter schools receive a per-pupil allocation from the state but are run by community groups, parents or other nonprofit organizations. The state has 50 charter schools. Another 35 are set to open this year.

        On the latest round of the fourth-grade tests, 17 percent of charter students passed the reading portion of the test, down from 18 percent the previous year.

        Seven percent passed math, down 2 percentage points from last year.

        That means that if the Fourth-Grade Reading Guarantee scheduled for the 2001-02 school year was in effect, about 80 percent of fourth-graders in charter schools would be held back. The state rate is 45 percent.

        Sixth-graders increased their pass rates on all subjects but still lag behind state results.

        The improvement in sixth grade was lauded by charter school leaders and questioned by charter critics.

        Charter schools divert

        public education resources without improving quality, said Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.

        “We're finding out the obvious, and that these schools are not the magic bullet they set out to be,” said Mr. Mooney. “And what they have been doing is fostering illusions that there is something better out there, and these numbers bring them back to earth.”

        But Al Olverson, a board member of two local charter schools, said the concept needs more time to prove itself.

        “We've only been around a couple of years, and we need to see a cumulative effect,” said Mr. Olverson, who serves on the board of both Greater Cincinnati Community Academy and Harmony Community School.

        “Besides, charter schools don't exist to save the saved. We're getting kids who come into sixth grade reading at a second-grade level, and catching them up. And that's a true measure of education.”

        Results for the four Cincinnaticharters that are required to give either the fourth- or sixth-grade proficiency tests or both varied.

        Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy reported some of the best charter scores in the state at both levels and Riverside Academy some of the worst.

        None of the local charters reached state requirements (a passing rate of 75 percent) in two of the five areas in each grade. And most of the pass rates in each area were well below 50 percent.

        Six charters operated here last year, with another eight sched uled to open this coming school year — including three sponsored by Cincinnati Public Schools and another five approved by the state.

        “We don't feel like we did badly for our first year, especially since we really only had the kids for a couple of months because of transportation issues at the start of the year,” said Lisa Hamm, founder and director of Greater Cincinnati Community Academy. She said the school is shooting for pass rates of 95 percent.


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