The D.C. Public Charter School Board is set to decide Wednesday morning whether the Arts and Technology Academy, a large Ward 7 elementary school, should be allowed to continue operating.
The charter board’s staff has recommended that the board vote against renewing ATA’s expiring charter agreement, a move that would force the 15-year-old school to close at the end of this academic year. According to the board’s staff, ATA has failed to meet its goals and academic achievement expectations, including in reading and math.
School leaders objected to the recommendation, calling the charter board’s analysis of ATA’s performance incomplete. The charter board summarized its analysis in a written report; a spokeswoman for the board would not provide that report to The Washington Post, saying that it is a deliberative document and therefore not public until after the board votes.
ATA’s standardized test scores have fallen over the last five years and in 2013, only 36 percent of students were proficient in math and 38 percent were proficient in reading. For the second year in a row, the charter board rated ATA as a Tier 3 school — or low-performing school.
But school leaders argue that ATA is a trusted community fixture that provides families in one of the District’s poorest neighborhoods with much-needed exposure to the arts. Its more than 600 students — who teachers and parents say are motivated to learn by their daily arts classes and annual theater productions — are performing better on math and reading tests than students at nearby neighborhood schools, ATA leaders point out.
And standardized test scores, they argue, reflect only the performance of students in grades three through five, who account for only about one-quarter of ATA’s total population.
About three-quarters of students are in preschool through grade 2, an early childhood program that reached each of seven goals in 2013 for student achievement and attendance. 71 percent of those younger students were proficient in reading, according to a widely used assessment known as DIBELS, and 92 percent were proficient in math, according to an assessment approved by the city charter board.
ATA’s board of directors said that they recognize that the school is in need of academic improvement, and so this year hired a new principal, Allison Artis, with experience leading a high-performing school. Artis previously led the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science, a Tier 1 charter school.
ATA has asked the city charter board to give the school a little more time to prove itself by awarding a 15-year conditional charter renewal. Under the proposed terms, the school would be allowed to stay open if it climbs into Tier 2 status after the 2013-14 school year.