Charter schools struggle in first year of state tests

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Midtown Public Charter School is located on Adelle Street in the Midtown area of Jackson.

Mississippi Today

Midtown Public Charter School is located on Adelle Street in the Midtown area of Jackson.

Mississippi’s two charter schools’ performance on state student assessment tests were “not where we had hoped they would be,” Charter School Authorizer Board Chair Tommie Cardin says.

Midtown Public Charter School’s sixth graders struggled the most, with a majority of them not passing their state tests.

Despite the low scores, Cardin and charter school supporters say they recognize students were transitioning to a new test this year and that it’s too early to make a judgment.

“Making judgments on charter school performance at this time would be premature in the process and unfair to schools, students, and their parents,” Cardin said, noting the board will take into account data that shows the growth of students to assess the schools.

There are five categories students can fall in on the Mississippi Assessment Program, which measures student progress in grades 3 through 8 with annual tests in English Language Arts and Mathematics.  The five levels are: minimal, basic, pass, proficient and advanced.

Statewide, 32.6 percent of students scored proficient (or levels 4 and 5) in English Language Arts compared to last year’s 32.2 percent. Around 31 percent of students scored proficient in math.

Several public schools and districts also struggled with the more rigorous test. The Mississippi Department of Education identified 10 school districts with the worse overall results in math and English.

That list includes Holmes County School District, where only one-quarter of students scored “pass” on their math test and only around 39 percent on their English test, and several other Delta school districts. In Yazoo City Municipal School District, only 36.8 percent of students scored in levels 3, 4, and 5 in English Language Arts, while 35.2 percent scored “pass” or above in math.

Nearly 70 percent of sixth graders at Midtown scored “minimal” and “basic” on their math test compared to 33 percent statewide. Their performance on the English Language Arts test was similar, with 35.2 percent of the 52 test takers scoring a Level 1, or minimal, and 33.3 percent scoring Level 2, or basic. Statewide, those numbers were 16.3 and 24 percent, respectively.

While ReImagine Prep’s fifth graders fared better on their math test, 46.9 percent of the 113 ReImagine students who took the English Language Arts test scored below “pass.”

In comparison to the two charter public schools in Jackson, Jackson Public Schools had 45.3 percent of its 5th graders fail to reach a Level 3 score in English, while nearly half did the same in math. Slightly over half of its 6th graders scored in Levels 1 and 2 in math compared to 60 percent in English.

Before the scores were released, education officials cautioned students and families to expect a drop in scores due to the increased rigor of the Mississippi Assessment Program and because last spring was the first time it was administered.

Gov. Phil Bryant, a supporter of charter schools, said in an emailed statement he is concerned about the scores of every Mississippi student in every school.

“Any conclusion based on one charter school in operation for one year is unfair and contributes to the false narrative that the education bureaucracy alone knows what’s best for our schoolchildren,” Bryant said.

Midtown struggled with high staff turnover last year, including the loss of its principal early in the school year. Josalyn Filkins, who was hired by Midtown Partners as principal this year, did not speak to the reason for the school’s poor performance but said it had a “solid vision and plan” for moving students forward.

“The scores provide a baseline for the educational strengths and weaknesses of our students so we can work on their individual needs,” Filkins said in an emailed statement. “We appreciate the data and what it reveals so we can focus on moving our students toward and beyond local and state averages.”

The plan includes a built-in hour of intervention, along with utilizing the part of the day each week for teachers’ professional development.

We are “working to ensure every instructional hour is completely maximized with engaging and enriching lessons,” Filkins said.

Kate Cooper, the director of growth and advancement at RePublic Schools, ReImagine Prep’s parent organization, attributes the school’s solid math scores to the professional development available for teachers, increased time spent on math and a well-written curriculum.

“We have double math classes every day, so our kids are exposed to a lot of math during the week,” Cooper said. “We have specialized professional development for math teachers who are getting both training on classroom management and a network team coaching our teachers around math content and how to introduce math concepts.”

Cooper noted that literacy is also a major focus for the school, but students came in at a 3rd grade reading level on average. Twenty percent were reading below 2nd grade level, she said.

When students came to school at ReImagine, there was “low performance across the board, especially in literacy. And 13 percent of our students have IEPs (Individualized Education Programs),” or written plans for students who qualify for special education.

Cooper also pointed to what she called “non-academic indicators” like the school’s student retention rate. Ninety-three percent of students returned to ReImagine. The rest either moved or transferred to a private school.

Students at ReImagine Prep charter school participate at a hackathon event last year.

RePublic Schools

Students at ReImagine Prep charter school participate at a hackathon event last year.

Cardin explained factors the board would consider in evaluating the schools performance.

“If you’ve got a fifth grader and they come in at a second grade reading level, and you get them to a fourth grade (reading level) in one year, that’s growth,” Cardin explained. “On the other hand, if they come in at a fourth-grade level and haven’t grown much or haven’t even gotten to the fifth grade level that’s going to be critical in (the board’s) overall calculation.”

The board, and other Mississippi school districts, will have to wait until October for the Mississippi Department of Education to release schools’ accountability scores, which include data on student growth.

High school students also are tested in Algebra I and English II, but neither charter schools operates at the high school level at this time.

Charter schools, though run by a private organization, receive local and state tax dollars and must take the same state tests given to public school students.

  • Otis

    Maybe Tate Reeves can arrange another tax giveaway to help the charter school.

  • LB

    Comparing Jackson charter schools’ scores to statewide averages is like comparing apples to oranges. It seems like a fair comparison is between area charter schools and JPS.
    ReImagine Prep fell in line with JPS, missing the JPS English score by only two percentage points (relatively insignificant statistically). It is disingenuous to include ReImagine Prep in an article about “struggling” charter schools when it’s consistent with JPS.
    Midtown Prep, based on the info in this article, seem to have a serious problem. What’s the explanation? Is the quality of education that much worse than JPS? Are Midtown Prep students that much different than JPS students? Staff turnover doesn’t seem to explain such disparity.

  • Thile

    “Every private school in the state is beating the crap out of the public schools.” – House Education Chairman (and noted college dropout) John Moore, February 2016.

    Whoopsies.