Nearly every charter school saw its letter grade decline this school year, according to state test results that measure student performance.
Accountability grades are based on state test results and other metrics, given on an A-F scale. Of the seven charter schools that received grades this year, one got a grade for the first time. For three more, this was their second year in the accountability system.
Charter schools are free public schools that do not report to a school board like traditional public schools. Instead, they are governed by the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board. They have more flexibility for teachers and administrators when it comes to student instruction and are funded by local school districts based on enrollment. Charter schools can more easily apply to open in a D or F rated district under the premise they will provide another option to students in struggling public schools.
RePublic Schools, which operates Smilow Collegiate, Smilow Prep, and Reimagine Prep in Jackson, saw the biggest declines from their 2022 performance. In a statement, the school network said it holds itself accountable for its performance and is reviewing the data to make changes in instructional practice. It also added that these scores are not representative of the schools’ dedication to their students.
Angela Bass, executive director of the Jackson RePublic Schools, declined to elaborate further.
Leflore Legacy Executive Director Tamala Boyd Shaw said the school’s F grade was “not what we had wanted.”
The sixth through eighth grade school in the Mississippi Delta had students take the science assessment for the first time this year, something Shaw said contributed to the decline from the D they received last year. She also pointed to the fact that the sixth grade students often come to the school several years behind, and it only has one year to get them up to speed.
“We want to definitely meet the needs of all of our scholars, and we’ll just continue to make whatever significant shifts (are necessary) … so that we not only see growth in our scholars, but proficiency,” she said.
The Charter School Authorizer Board is digging into the data to identify the school’s needs and see how it can provide support to school leaders, according to its Executive Director Lisa Karmacharya.
“Of course, I think we’re disappointed that the scores are not better than they were, but we also are encouraged by the additional infusion of monies (federal pandemic relief money) and the support that I think can come from the charter association,” she said.
While Clarksdale Collegiate, a K-8 school in the Mississippi Delta, received the same letter grade as last year, it was the only charter school that saw its accountability point value increase. Its 2023 score was two points shy of the cutoff for a C.
“(We) definitely wanted to be higher than a D but (are) pleased to see that growth, especially when you add the amount of growth that our kids made in each of the subject areas around proficiency,” said Amanda Johnson, the school’s executive director.
Johnson attributed the school’s improved performance in part to an additional focus on literacy. She said they opened up the library two nights a week and spent additional time with third graders preparing for their reading test.
Rachel Canter, executive director of Mississippi First, an education policy organization that helped craft the state’s charter school law in 2013, said charter schools in Mississippi are primarily serving the state’s “most vulnerable” students. Canter characterized those students as more likely to need special education services and have issues with absenteeism.
“That means that (charter schools) are going to have a harder, longer climb to recovery than many of our other school districts and the children that they’re serving,” she said. “We know that charter schools signed up to do that job – it’s a job they committed to do, and they’ve got to do that job.”
Canter said that while the causes of the declines vary at each school, schools need to focus on moving kids all the way up to proficiency, not just out of the lowest-scoring groups. She also said several schools need to focus on addressing chronic absenteeism.
She doesn’t expect parent demand for charter schools to be immediately impacted by these results, largely because charter parents felt “left behind” by the public school system.
“Over time, parents are going to want to see how their child improved, but I don’t think that’s going to change overnight because I think the parents that have their children in charter schools recognize what challenges they’re facing,” she said.
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