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School with substandard scores gets shorter charter renewal

A Brooklyn charter school with a floundering English-language learner program and poor English marks had its charter renewed, but only on a probationary basis.

State charter authorizers who reviewed Achievement First Bushwick for its charter renewal found that the school had an inadequate ELL program, according to a renewal report earlier this year. The school also failed to meet English language arts test scores goals since it opened in 2006, which prompted the authorizers to decline the school’s request for a five-year renewal.

Last week, the state Board of Regents supported the report’s recommendations in an official vote at its monthly meeting. The school now has just three years to fix its problems — or close.

The school’s authorizer, SUNY Charter School Institute, recommended the short-term renewal only on the condition that the school address problems with its ELL instruction before this school year began. The main problem was that ELL students were getting services more appropriate for disabled students, on an ad hoc basis. The services were “ineffective given the absence of a formal ELL program for what is a sizable ELL population,” the authorizers found.

Achievement First, which enrolled 18 students classified ELLs in the 2009-2010 school year, took steps to improve its ELL instruction in time for the school’s opening this year. SUNY officials deemed the changes “likely to result in improved student learning within the added time that a short-term renewal permits.”

Achievement First Bushwick is one of 17 schools that SUNY approved for short-term renewals out of 51 schools since it began authorizing charter schools, according to SUNY Institute spokeswoman Cynthia Proctor.

The school has consistently met or exceeded math standards, the report says, but only 67 percent of students – below the 75 percent standard set by SUNY – were proficient in ELA in the school’s first three testing years.

“While AF Bushwick has outperformed its local community school district in English language arts, it has continued to perform lower than expected in comparison to similar schools state-wide, based on free lunch statistics,” the report says.

School officials explained in the report that the low rates of students who qualified for free or reduced lunch — 56 percent in 2009-2010 — was because too few students had returned forms showing their eligibility. The school actually has many more poor students, they said.

Calls to both the Bushwick school and to the Achievement First network’s management office were not returned.

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