National News
December 17, 2012

Charter schools: Indiana's continue to show strong test score gains, study shows

by Scott Elliott

Charter schools in Indiana are among the nation’s best at raising student test scores when compared with other public schools, a Stanford University study showed.

Of the 23 states and cities examined so far as part of the continuing study, Indiana’s charter schools rank fifth-best for the test score gains of their students.

Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes followed up and expanded on a 2011 examination that also lavished praise on the state’s charter school performance.

“The charter school sector continues to be strong in Indiana,” said Margaret Raymond, the center’s director.

The results were roughly the same as in 2011, with especially impressive reading results. Almost 20 percent of the charters saw significantly more gain in reading than typical public schools in the state. Less than 10 percent of charters had reading gains that failed to outperform other public schools.

Math performance wasn’t as strong. About a quarter of charters are doing very well in math, with their students significantly outgaining typical public schools. But a bigger share — 42 percent — made test score gains that were not as strong as traditional public schools.

Charter performance would be even better were it not for the very poor test results of a handful of charter schools opened in the past four years under the sponsorship of Ball State University, Raymond said.

Although some individual charter schools have their struggles, the study suggests that students who attend charters generally may be better off than if they had gone to traditional public schools in their communities.

When scores for charter school students are compared directly with those of students who have similar demographic backgrounds and prior academic performance, the charter school students appeared to learn more.

The study estimates that average charter school students likely are about a month and a half ahead in reading and math than if they had attended their local public schools. In Indianapolis, the effect was more pronounced: Charter school students came out about two months ahead of where they might have been if they attended Indianapolis Public Schools or township schools, the study reported.

IPS weighs in

IPS Superintendent Eugene White said the results don’t comport with the district’s internal comparisons to charters.

“We try to compare ourselves to the charter schools within a mile and a half of a public school,” he said. “Every time we do that, we see our public schools performing as well as the charter schools or better. There are some exceptions. But in so many of the comparisons, our schools continue to do better and better.”

Charter school supporters hailed the findings as strong evidence that Indiana charter schools are providing kids better opportunities than they might otherwise have.

“CREDO (the Stanford research group) has a strong national reputation,” said Russ Simnick, president of the Indiana Public Charter Schools Association. “A lot of states don’t fare so well on CREDO, so the fact Indiana has continued to do well is testament to how well charters are doing here.”

Apt comparisons

The study used a method of pairing individual charter school students with students who had the same demographic profiles and started out with the same test scores but attended traditional schools the charter students otherwise might have attended. Raymond said the data showed how a small number of poor-performing charter schools can quickly dampen the overall performance of the schools. Charter performance was rising strongly until 2008, she said, when Ball State approved several that have posted very low scores.

“Loose authorizing from one of the main authorizers allowed a group of low-performing schools into the marketplace,” she said. “Charter schools’ true strength is completely wiped out by the low performance.”

Ball State officials could not be reached for comment. In 2011, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard moved to close Fountain Square Academy for poor performance, only to see the school receive a second chance from Ball State.

Critics said the danger of “sponsor shopping” increased with a 2011 Indiana law that allowed private universities to sponsor schools and installed a statewide board to sponsor new charters.

The board’s approvals have put many more charters in the pipeline for the upcoming years.

The City-County Council voted 23-4 Monday night to approve three new schools for EdPower, the umbrella organization that managed the highly successful Tindley Accelerated School.

Call Star reporter Scott Elliott at (317) 444-6494


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