course correction

For some charters, 2012 reading test gains began with a struggle

Two years ago, just one in three students at Achievement First Bushwick were rated “proficient” on the state’s reading tests. It wasn’t exactly the kind of result promised from a high-performing charter school in a “no excuses” network.

But the school has nearly doubled that rate in the two years since, according to state test scores released Tuesday. On the 2012 English language arts test, nearly 60 percent of students at the school were rated proficient, compared to 47 percent of students citywide.

Bushwick’s gains on the reading tests were among the largest made in the charter sector, which improved as a whole by seven percentage points, from 44.5 percent to 51.5 percent.  The improvement — from matching the citywide average to scoring well above it — has provided fodder for charter school advocates and the Bloomberg administration to push back against critics who oppose the expansion of charter schools across the state.

“Policy makers and legislators should take note” of the gains, said Bill Phillips, president of the New York Charter Schools Association.”It’s not only a tougher measure than the host district comparison, it suggests that districts across the state should consider charters as another tool to better educate children.”

“We can’t possibly handle the demand from parents for the charter schools,” Mayor Bloomberg said during a press conference Tuesday. “They’re just off the charts.”

Several charter operators announced their schools’ test scores in celebratory press releases Tuesday. Deborah Kenny touted the eighth-grade math and reading scores at her schools, the Harlem Village Academies. The Success Academy network announced a 7-point gain in reading proficiency across its four schools with testing grades, more than twice the citywide improvement rate. And Democracy Prep said the low-performing charter school it took over last year had posted the largest reading proficiency gains of any school in the state, with third-grade reading proficiency hurtling from 28 percent in 2011 to 63 percent this year.

The charter school sector wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic to promote its gains two years ago, when reading scores slumped. Struggles to boost literacy were not unique to Achievement First Bushwick.Across the city, the charter school sector had stalled on boosting student performance. In 2010, 42 percent of students scored proficient on the state reading tests, virtually identical to the city’s district average. The results were not what the charter sector had hoped for at a time when when advocates were trying to make the case that more charter schools were necessary in the city and state.

After last year’s results barely budged, many charter school leaders realized they had to change their approach.

“I know that people put in a very hard look at this time last year and said we’re not getting the job done,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center, an organization that advocates for and offers support to charter schools.

One of those schools was Achievement First Bushwick, where scores on the reading tests were low enough that its authorizer slapped the school with a shortened charter renewal. Principal Amy D’Angelo told GothamSchools last year that in response to its 2010 test scores, it began overhauling its approach to teaching literacy.

“AF Bushwick launched an intensive effort to strength curriculum and instruction in ELA and services for ELL students,” D’Angelo told us last year. She said she had hired an English specialist to work independently with students who struggled the most on reading and writing.

In her press release, Kenny also said her schools had bolstered instruction to meet higher standards on the test. “As the tests have become more difficult, our teachers have developed and improved instructional strategies to help all students reach their highest potential,” she said.

One of the criticisms about charter schools is that they don’t serve comparable numbers of students with high needs, an assessment that was largely supported by a report that Merriman’s office released earlier this year. So far, disaggregated charter school data for these types of students aren’t available.

But in a press release after the test scores were announced, Merriman noted that the schools do serve groups of students who typically have lower test scores. “Even though New York City charter schools serve students who are overwhelmingly disadvantaged economically and largely African-American and Hispanic, they are proficient in math at nearly the same rate as white students are across New York,” he wrote.

For now, the Charter Center has put together a useful interactive tool to browse the latest performance of charter schools. The scatter graph shows how each school performed on both the English and the math tests. Schools located high up in the right quadrant had the highest combined proficiency rates. We took the numbers one step further and added the proficiency rates for each school to determine which ones performed the best for both subjects.

Here’s the list of the top-10 scoring charter schools. Their combined proficiency is in parentheses:

1. Icahn Charter School 4 (195)
2. Icahn Charter School 2 (192.4)
3. Success Academy 1 (187.4)
4. Success Academy 4 (185.9)
5. Success Academy 3 (184)
6. Bronx Charter School for Excellence (182)
7. Success Academy 2 (178.6)
8. Williamsburg Collegiate (157)
9. Icahn Charter School (166)
10. Brooklyn Ascend (153)

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call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”