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ISTEPs bring 'mixed bag' for Indiana charter schools

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Performance among Indiana's charter schools on the 2014 ISTEP tests ran the gamut from low passing rates to rates similar to the state's best public schools.

The percent of students passing both the math and English portions of the test — a key measure used by the state in determining both school grades and teacher and principal salaries — ranged from a low of 0 percent to a high of 88 percent among the 59 schools that administered the test.

Kevin Teasley, president of the GEO Foundation, a not-for-profit charter supporter, saw scores drop at the group's 21st Century Charter School in Gary this year.

"I would say it's a mixed bag," he said of charter school performance across the state.

The 21st Century school saw 45.8 percent of students pass both portions of the test, down from 68.4 percent in 2013. Teasley attributed the drop to an influx of new students and upheaval because of new construction at the school.

The worst performing charter school was a new program at the Pendleton Juvenile Correctional Facility, where two students passed the English portion of the test, and one passed the math. No student passed both

Perhaps the state's most widely known charter school saw its performance improve.

Christel House, which was at the center of the grade-changing scandal involving former Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett, saw 71 percent of students pass both portions this year, up from 61.9 percent lat year. But 74.6 percent of the school's students passed the test in 2012.

Carey Dahncke, director of Christel House Academy in Indianapolis, said he knew there was a problem last year when the school's scores dropped precipitously amid the widespread online testing problems. This year his students used pencil and paper.

"We scored much more in line with where we had expected to," he said. "When we had looked at the scores last year, we knew without a doubt that the testing interruption played a major role in that drop."

An independent review performed for the state found that on the whole scores went up slightly at schools reporting disruptions in 2013.

Cassandra Guarino, professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University, said it's hard to make generalizations about the performance of charter schools, in large part because they're often as diverse as public schools. She noted some "volatility" in the year-to-year changes in passing rates among Indiana charters, but said much of that is attributable to the small number of students being tested at each school.

"There's so much involved in studying school performance, when you think about it. How do you assess how well a student has done in a year and then translate that into how the school has done, when maybe the student wasn't in the same school last year?" she said.

Statewide, Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz praised modest improvements on the whole, with 74.7 percent of the state's students passing both the math and English portions of the test, up 1 percentage point from the year before.

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  • Actually, this proves only that
    charter schools "are as diverse as public schools." Not really news, this is intuitive. Schools run by different administrators, with different budgets, serving different students, with different parents, are DIFFERENT. Economically speaking, the free market should take care of the "bad" charter schools. But, you're dreaming if you think charter schools are a fad.
  • Proving once again...
    That charter schools are NOT the silver bullet for improving educational performance and that teacher's unions aren't the problem. Hopefully this experiment will run its course and we can get back to rebuilding and supporting our great locally controlled public school systems.

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