- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board's first school performance reports show that most of the 12 charter schools run by the board made small gains in standardized test scores, but still have a long way to go.

Generally, the charter school students performed at a level below that of D.C. public school students in the standardized tests, the reports show.

The majority of the charter students scored "below basic" or "basic" in standardized tests on reading and math, though many jumped from the lowest categories to the next level "basic, proficient or advanced."

The school performance reports do not include an average of all the charter schools' scores or results from schools chartered by the D.C. Board of Education, which oversees 26 publicly funded, but independently run, schools.

The performance reports show each charter school's score on the Stanford 9 standardized test, along with its figures on attendance, re-enrollment, suspensions and expulsions. The reports include indicators of progress and comments by the board.

These reports, which were released last week, are the first performance evaluations for several of the newer charter schools.

"We have always regarded the first-year scores as baseline," said Nelson Smith, executive director of the Public Charter School Board. "Every school will tell you they need to do better and need more progress.

"Still, this is significant progress and we expect to see significant gains next year."

Edison-Friendship/Woodridge Campus saw more than 70 percent of its students make gains in math and reading. The number of its math students nearly doubled at the proficient level and nearly tripled at the advanced level.

Washington Math Science Technology Public Charter High School, however, saw math achievement fall in all categories except below basic. Below basic students increased by about 25 percent in reading and 90 percent in math.

Below basic means a student has little or no mastery of skills in reading or math at a certain grade level; proficient means a student is performing at grade level; advanced means the student is performing above grade level.

D.C. public school students' average scores for 1999-2000 were as follows: in math 37 percent below basic, 36 percent basic, 21 percent proficient, 6 percent advanced; in reading 26 percent below basic, 45 percent basic, 23 percent proficient and 6 percent advanced.

The reports also show:

• More than 60 percent of the charter schools' students come from low-income households.

• Some schools, such as the School for Arts in Learning, have a significant enrollment of special-education students.

• Few schools have more than 20 percent of their students performing at a proficient or an advanced level on the Stanford 9 tests.

• Attendance is a problem at some schools, such as ARE Public Charter School, which has a 62 percent daily attendance rate.

• Discipline is problematic in a few schools, such as Edison-Friendship/Blow Pierce Campus, which issued 42 suspensions in its first year.

• The majority of students have returned to their charter schools.

Overall, the reports show the majority of the charter schools are making progress in operations, academics and staff development and were following compliance issues. They also indicate that the majority of students attend school regularly and behave themselves, and that demand for the schools remains high.

Charter school advocates welcomed the reports, saying they weren't surprised by the results.

"The schools seem to be making progress," said Robert Cane, executive director of Friends Of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS). "I would not expect dramatic improvement in test scores. It is much too early and these are very new schools. It would be absurd to think they are running like clockwork."

"These schools are about choice," he added. "These reports provide the information that give people an ability to make an intelligent choice."

Meanwhile, the D.C. Public Charter School Board tentatively has approved one new school out of 12 applications this cycle the District's first law-related public charter school.

The Public Charter School Board conditionally approved Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School last week. The Academy will be an outgrowth of the D.C. Street Law Clinic, where Georgetown University Law Center students have taught legal and constitutional concepts to public high school students for 28 years.

According to its application, the high school program will "strive to prepare its students for civic participation through education about law, democracy and human rights."

The founding group, which includes students and faculty from the center, intends to open the academy in September 2001 in Southeast.

The board also has given "first-stage clearance" to three other applicants, which must revise their proposals by January:

• The Tri-Community Public Charter School plans to offer a comprehensive curriculum for elementary and preschool students in partnership with the America's Choice program in Petworth.

• KIPP-DC Academy is a middle school based on successful urban programs in Houston and the South Bronx, with extended learning time.

• The Beloved Community, affiliated with George Washington University educators, proposes a holistic approach to meeting the housing and nutritional needs of high school students, as well as advancing their learning goals through the America's Choice curriculum.

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