North Carolina charter schools will get a one-year reprieve from academic standards that could lead the state to revoke charters. But the tougher new tests that debuted last year, leading to a dramatic plunge in pass rates across the state, could spell trouble for many schools moving forward.
Seventy-five of 108 charter schools that reported scores for 2013 fell below the 60 percent composite pass rate that can trigger a label of "academically inadequate." That's not a surprise, given that fewer than half of all public-school students (including traditional public schools and charters, which are operated by independent boards) passed last year's math and reading exams. And it's actually better than schools run by local districts: By my tally, 86 percent of North Carolina's district schools and 69 percent of charters had pass rates below 60 percent. (See results for Mecklenburg schools in the school data listing at right.)
|Charlotte's Sugar Creek Charter had low proficiency but high growth|
But a 60 percent pass rate on the old tests isn't the same as 60 percent on the new exams, which are designed to test the more complex skills demanded by national Common Core academic standards. In fact, I'm still puzzling over how anyone can accurately calculate year-to-year student growth, given that the testing has changed so much. School growth ratings are now tallied by the Cary-based SAS, a private company that uses a secret formula to determine whether N.C. schools met, exceeded or fell short of acceptable progress.
The state Board of Education decided not to penalize anyone for 2012-13 scores, Medley said, but this year's results will count and could combine with earlier years to label a school inadequate. By Dec. 19, Medley said, he'll notify operators if their school is at risk.
Eighteen of the charters that fell below 60 percent also failed to meet the state growth targets. Those included four in the Charlotte area: American Renaissance School in Statesville (38.7 percent overall proficiency), Carolina International School in Harrisburg (50.2 percent), Community Charter in Charlotte (17.8 percent) and Crossroads Charter High in Charlotte (less than 5 percent).
Closing of inadequate charters is not automatic. Update/correction: Medley called Monday and said under the current system, revocation is automatic for schools that fail to meet the standards for two of the most recent three years (which will not include 2012-13).
My guess is there's going to be a lot of discussion among charter advocates, state education officials and lawmakers about the definition of the label. After all, if falling below 60 percent proficiency and failing to make growth targets are indicators of academic failure , many traditional public schools also fell short last year, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg's Hopewell (33.7 percent), Independence (45.3 percent) and Myers Park (58.5 percent) high schools.