Few charter schools improve on state report cards

Eleven area charter schools improved their ratings on the 2011-12 state report cards, while 10 slipped and 16 others stayed the same, according to the preliminary data released by the Ohio Department of Education.

None of the 37 rated charter schools in the region received an “Excellent” rating, the equivalent of an ‘A’ letter grade, or above. Six were rated “Academic Emergency,” the same as an ‘F.’

No area charter high school met the state’s requirement of at least a 90 percent graduation rate, and only two charter schools in Ohio achieved that, according to a Middletown Journal/Hamilton JournalNews review of the data.

The new ratings brought mixed reviews.

Officials for the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools said charter schools continue to improve their performance.

“In every year since 2008, a larger percentage of charter schools across the state are achieving ‘Effective’ or higher ratings and a smaller percentage are rated ‘Academic Watch’ or ‘Academic Emergency,’ ” said Marianne Lombardo, the alliance’s vice president for school performance and accountability.

But some advocates for traditional public school districts said they don’t see the state’s investment in charter schools paying off and point to a statewide report card ratings comparison between districts and charters. While 249 traditional school districts were rated “Excellent” and 138 more were rated “Excellent with Distinction,” 26 charters and four charters received those ratings, respectively. There are 614 traditional districts and 352 charter schools in Ohio.

Eleven traditional school districts are rated “Academic Watch” and two others “Academic Emergency,” while 55 charters are in “Academic Watch” and 66 in “Academic Emergency.”

Jeffrey Lewis, business manager at Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools and former superintendent of the Xenia and Miami East school districts, said it bothers him that charter schools are still being touted by some “as the panacea to move education in Ohio to much better places.” In his view, charter schools have been “educationally a sad experiment for Ohio.”

Lombardo said many of the schools in the bottom two rating levels are considered specialized schools because they are either dropout recovery schools for students ages 16 to 22 who have dropped out of other schools, or they serve a special education population where 50 percent or more of the kids have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

Lombardo also noted that high schools cannot achieve “Excellent with Distinction” because the value-added measure only applies to students in grades 4-8, yet districts can attain that.

“It’s not comparing apples to apples,” she said.

In the region, most of the charter schools – 13 of the 37 that were rated – were “Continuous Improvement,” the equivalent of a C. The ratings mirrored the statewide performance of charters, where the majority of them were rated “Continuous Improvement.”

The highest rating locally was “Effective,” a B, which was attained by 11 schools, including the Dayton Early College Academy (DECA), Emerson Academy, Fairborn Digital Academy, Trotwood Fitness and Prep Academy and Summit Academy Secondary School in Middletown.

In Butler County, of the five charter schools on the preliminary report card rating for 2011-12, Middletown Fitness and Preparatory Academy continued its “Continuous Improvement” designation; Summit Academy Secondary School – Middletown went up to “Effective”; Life Skills Center – Middletown went from “Academic Emergency” up two notches to “Continuous Improvement”; Richard Allen Academy III in Hamilton retained its “Continuous Improvement” designation; and Summit Academy Community School for Alternative Learners of Middletown continued its rating of “Academic Emergency.”

Chuck Hall, Life Skills-Middletown principal, said he was excited about the school’s rating and credited the work of the school’s staff for the improved performance. He called it a “validation” that Life Skills is making a difference.

“Our dedicated staff allows us at our school to be able to do more one on one teaching than is done in traditional schools,” Hall said. “Our teachers are able to do specialized instruction and sit down with our students to delve down into the sections of the Ohio Graduation Test on what they need to focus on.”

Life Skills-Middletown opened in 2001 and has an average daily enrollment of 249 students.

Myrrha Satow, chief executive officer of EdVantages, which owns Middletown Fitness and Preparatory Academy, said the K-8 school “operates on so many factors.”

Satow said on the report card for 2009-10, the school received a bump on the Value-Added score, which led to an “Effective” designation. Satow said the school “is very competitive with Middletown Public Schools.”

“We believe we are extremely competitive in grades 3 to 8, particularly as we serve a more at-risk population,” she said. “Further, our performance index score is higher than four Middletown elementary schools.”

Satow said the school will continue to do the things it’s doing during its extended school day that runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Students there work on their reading skills for two hours a day and their math skills for an hour and a half each day. Students at the school receive 1,200 hours of instruction during the school year compared with 920 hours a day in most schools, she said.

“This is critical to closing the gap because kids get more time on task,” Satow said. “It’s great to see the gains in our middle school because it shows that we’re on the right track.”

The school’s average daily enrollment was 260 students.

At Summit Academy Secondary School and at Summit Academy Community School for Alternative Learners of Middletown, which are part of the 26 schools in Ohio owned by Summit Academy Management, there were mixed ratings.

The rating for Summit Academy Secondary School rose to “Effective” for students in grades 8-12, where the average daily enrollment is 48 students.

“What we feel is the reason for the improvement was that the staff and teachers really focused in on the time we spent on reading and math with the students,” said David Norman, chief of operations of Summit Academy Management. “We did some old-fashioned sitting with the students.”

Norman said the school also began using new materials and the school received new textbooks and software for reading and math instruction.

The company’s other school, Summit Academy Community School for Alternative Learners of Middletown, remained in “Academic Emergency.” Norman said the school also worked more with students on improving their reading and math skills.

“The kids there have the most difficulty with assessment tests,” he said.

At both schools and throughout their network schools, Norman said about 90 percent of the students have some type of special education needs with disabilities such as ADHD and are on individualized educational programs.

“We try things that work to help our students and to improve their skills,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to improve our scores.”

The school’s average daily enrollment is 105 students.

Officials at Richard Allen III School in Hamilton could not be reached for comment. The school, which is part of the Richard Allen School network based in Dayton, has an average daily enrollment of 163 students in grades kindergarten through eight.

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