The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pennsylvania eases NCLB rules to help charter schools

How is this for fair? Charter schools in Pennsylvania are now being assessed by easier rules than are traditional public schools when it comes to determining whether No Child Left Behind mandates have been met.

The result is that it looks like charter schools, in general, are outperforming traditional public schools when, in fact, they aren’t.

Here’s what happened, according to The Morning Call newspaper. The state’s Education Department changed the rules for assessing whether a charter school had met NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress mandate to match the method used for school districts (and it did it before getting the required permission from the federal Department of Education). District rules have been easier to meet than the rules for individual public schools, both public and charter — until, that is, Pennsylvania’s pro-charter officials decided to give individual charter schools a break.

According to the Pennsylvania School Board Association, 44 of 77 charter schools recently labeled as having met the AYP requirements for 2011-12 actually didn’t if compared to the rules that traditional public schools had to meet. Some of the 44 charters even saw declines in proficiency percentages.

The Morning Call quotes Bob Fayfich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, as saying the changes are fair because some charter schools, including online charters, have more students than some entire traditional school districts.

Even if that ruling made sense for large charter schools (which it doesn’t), it should be noted that the new rules apply to charters of all sizes.

Here’s how the school board association describes the changes:

Currently approved standards for individual Pennsylvania schools require that for a school to meet the academic performance component of AYP based on PSSA [ Pennsylvania System of School Assessment ] testing, the overall student body must meet the annual targets for the percentage of students scoring proficient or above, on both math and reading assessments. In addition, the necessary percentage of proficient students in each measurable subgroup (students grouped by race, ethnicity, English language learners, special needs, economically disadvantaged, etc.) must be attained in order for the school to make AYP.

Under the new method PDE is now applying to charter schools, the school’s overall student body would not have to meet PSSA proficiency percentage targets. Instead, a school’s student body would be divided into up to three grade spans (elementary grades 3-5, middle grades 6-8, and high school grades 9-12), and if the students in at least one of those grade spans met proficiency percentage targets, including the subgroups within that span, the entire school would be regarded as having met that component of AYP. Under this methodology, the proficiency percentage of a charter school’s overall student body could decline, and yet PDE would still classify the charter school as having made AYP.