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NACSA Comments on NAEP's Charter School Test Data

Charter School Students Show Higher Growth Over Time; Rigorous Accountability Improves Charter School Quality

August 17, 2004

Mark Cannon, executive director of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), released the following statement in response to the American Federation of Teachers’ analysis of charter school data from the 2003 National assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).


"The NAEP results present a snapshot that shows, on the whole, that students at charter schools have some catching up to do. This is expected as charter schools serve predominantly an at-risk student population that enters the charter classroom several years behind grade-level achievement.

“Importantly, the raw NAEP data show no statistically significant difference in student performance in the 4th or 8th grade reading and math tests when comparing charter and traditional public schools by race and ethnicity.

"Better measures than the NAEP data are gain scores that track the same student's performance over time and value-added methods that are also longitudinal and control for environmental factors so as to better assess a school's impact on individual students. Such data that demonstrate each individual student's progress from year to year are far more informative and compelling – not just for charter schools, but for all schools. Bringing an underperforming student up to grade level will take some extra time and effort. Charter schools frequently offer innovative instructional approaches to reach young people for whom learning is a real struggle and provide a smaller, more intensive environment where students can get the individualized attention they need.

"Research indicates that charters school students show more growth over time than their counterparts in traditional public schools. Part of the answer lies in how the charter school itself matures after its first 2 or 3 years of operation. Most charter schools are start-up entities, and they perform better after having time to build a cohesive school community and work through the formidable challenge of starting a new public school with less funding than traditional schools receive and usually without any support for a facility.

”For valid and meaningful evaluation, it makes sense to give charter schools 3 years to become established, especially knowing that they will be held to account for their results typically within another 2 years (given that the average charter term is set at 5 years).

“Accountability is treated as a virtue, and not a vice, by most in the charter school community. It is a fundamental premise of chartering that some schools will not succeed - whether because not enough parents send their children to make the school financially viable or because the school's authorizer determines that the school has not satisfactorily fulfilled the terms of its performance contract or ‘charter.’ Thus, charter schools are dramatically different from traditional public schools because they have two complementary mechanisms for accountability - parental choice and an authorizer-enforced performance agreement. Neither of these typically exists for traditional public schools.

"There is a serious lever of accountability awaiting all charter schools: the built-in renewal clock. As the public stewards that license and oversee charter schools, many authorizers use a system of warnings, probationary periods, on-site reviews and other similar tools and methods to intervene appropriately to help schools that are languishing. A recent in-depth national study by Public Impact proves that many authorizers are willing to close underperforming schools. The ultimate authority to close a school for chronic underperformance, which happened in roughly sixteen percent of the cases studied, looms as a constant reminder and a powerful motivator to school leaders, educators, and parents and students to produce results.

“The ‘charter school’ label does not work like an incantation to guarantee success, but that's just the point. Charter schools are allowed to fail or succeed on the merits and are held accountable in any case.”

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