Results from Michigan
Educational Assessment Program standardized tests in 2004 show that charter high
schools are progressing at a faster rate than public high schools, according to
an October analysis of test scores by The Detroit News.
Though charters are still
behind conventional high schools in aggregate average scores statewide, The News
found that scores on the reading, writing, math and science sections of the MEAP
test at charter schools increased at a greater rate than at public schools.
Proponents of charters say
these results are an indication of the ability of charter schools to help
students that have problems in public schools. Dan Quisenberry, president of the
Michigan Association of Public School Academies, the organization that
represents charter schools around the state, calls these results a success.
"Charters are taking the students that drop out of public schools during high
school, which is where they mostly do so," he said.
The News’ analysis of results
on the MEAP tests found that on the math section, charter students improved 2.7
percent over the previous year, compared to a 1.1 percent decline in
conventional schools. In reading, charters saw an increase of 11.2 percent,
compared to a 9.4 percent increase statewide, and in science, seniors at
charters improved scores by 8 percent, while seniors at conventional schools
improved by 2.3 percent.
Quisenberry noted that the
faster pace of the charter schools’ improvement over conventional public schools
reflects the important role played by charters. The data, he said, "add to the
body of evidence that establishes the need for charter schools in the education
system as a whole."
His comments echoed those of
other proponents, who say that charter schools add an element of competition to
public education that promotes higher standards of learning in all schools,
whether conventional public, public charter or private schools. Charter schools
are publicly funded, but locally controlled by various independent
organizations, including parent groups, nonprofit organizations and even
Critics point out that charter
schools still lag behind state averages in all portions of the MEAP test, a fact
that charter administrators acknowledge and say they are working to improve.
"You can’t do everything in one year, but we’re making a lot of progress,"
Weston Technical Academy Principal Jim Baston told The Detroit News. The
percentage of students at Weston meeting reading standards doubled this past
year to 61 percent, but scores at the school remain low in writing and math.
One reason students at
charters may have increased at faster rates than traditional schools this past
year is their lower starting point, noted Western Michigan University researcher
Gary Miron. "It’s easier to show growth when kids aren’t performing that well to
begin with," Miron told The News.
Proponents counter that the
lower initial results disprove the charge that charters would "skim" the best
students from the conventional public schools. The evidence suggests that
charters, on average, take in more students that were struggling in their former
schools. This results in a lower baseline from which charter schools start their
assessment testing, compared to conventional public schools. Researchers have
begun to acknowledge this fact, shifting their assessments of charter schools
toward "value-added" improvement, or the rate at which students improve within
charters and conventional public schools, rather than just a snapshot of MEAP
scores at a particular time. This methodology avoids making static comparisons
between dissimilar groups of students.
Martin Ackley, spokesman for
the state superintendent of public instruction, praised charters for their
improvement. "We are pleased when any high school can increase achievement," he
said. However, Ackley stated he doesn’t think charters necessarily provide
competition among schools "as much as it is an option for some parents to take."
In any case, he said, "We want all students, whether at public school academies
or traditional neighborhood schools, to achieve at the highest possible levels."