Most Charter Schools Miss Test Benchmarks

By Theola Labbé and V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Thirty of 34 charter school campuses, representing thousands of District students, failed to meet reading and math benchmarks on a new test, according to data released yesterday by the D.C. Public Charter School Board.

The poor results on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment mirror the performance of students in traditional D.C. public schools reported weeks ago. Of the 146 government-run schools, 118 failed to meet academic targets, up from 81 last year. The charter board knew the results for the schools it oversees at the time but declined to release them, saying it would take more time to verify scores and notify parents.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, students from the underperforming schools have the right to transfer to schools that meet benchmarks for yearly academic progress. But with the vast majority of charter and government-run public schools failing to meet the standards, and with long waiting lists at many charter schools, parents have fewer choices. The latest test results provide a fuller picture of the paucity of high-achieving schools in the District, despite the expansion of charter schools in the past 10 years as an alternative to the low-performing traditional system.

The four charter schools that did meet academic benchmarks were Arts & Technology Academy; Friendship Public Charter School -- Woodridge Campus; Howard Road Academy; and KIPP DC: KEY Academy.

Charter board President Thomas A. Nida said in a statement that he was disappointed by the results of the 34 schools under his board's authority but not surprised.

"With the new learning standards, a new test, and the testing criteria raised all in the same year, we were somewhat braced for less than stellar outcomes," the statement said.

Students in grades 3 through 8 and 10 took the new test in April. Charter schools are publicly funded and open to students citywide, but each school operates independently and outside of the government-run school system. Between them, the charter board, a seven-member panel appointed by the mayor, and the D.C. Board of Education have authority over the city's 55 charter schools. D.C. public school officials said yesterday that the results of the charter schools under Board of Education authority soon will be published on the school system's Web site.

Last year, on a different exam, students at eight of 31 charter school campuses met the academic targets while students at 10 charter schools failed. The remaining 13 campuses were not required under the federal education law to report their data because fewer than 40 students were tested in several categories.

Students took a new test this year that required short written answers as opposed to the multiple-choice questions on the old Stanford 9 exam. That test was replaced because it measured nationwide standards instead of knowledge of the District curriculum as required by the new federal education law.

Susan Schaeffler, executive director of the D.C. Knowledge Is Power Program, which operates several public charter schools in the District, said school leaders spent weeks double-checking the data, which in some cases moved students from passing to not passing. The charter board contracted with a consultant to analyze and verify testing data but did not respond to information requests yesterday on the name of the consultant or the amount of that contract.

Last year, students at KIPP DC: KEY Academy in Southeast had the city's highest math test scores. But students at KIPP DC: AIM Academy, also in Southeast, did not meet the standards this year.

The change in scores from last year "is so drastic," Schaeffler said. "Everyone is trying to make sure it's clearly explained."

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