By LYNN FRANEY and TIM HOOVER - The Kansas City Star
In the first year that charter schools operated in Kansas City, their students generally performed worse on state tests than did students at similar district schools, a new consultant’s report shows.
The report presented Thursday to the Missouri Board of Education also showed that state test scores at all but four of the 15 charter schools studied were similar to or below the Kansas City School District average.
Jocelyn Strand, who oversees charter schools at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, cautioned against using the report to judge charter schools’ academic achievements.
The report was compiled earlier this year by Research & Training Associates in Overland Park and contains just one year of test data. Some charter schools are in their third year, but second-year test results were released in late September after the company gathered its data.
The performance of some charter schools improved on the Missouri Assessment Program test in the spring; others worsened.
"There are comparisons in the report, but those comparisons two or three or five years from now may look very different," Strand said. "It’s too early to make judgments."
According to the state law that created charter schools — which operate with public money but are run by their own boards — the state must review them every two years.
Research & Training Associates analyzed test scores and interviewed charter school parents and board members, as well as the Kansas City superintendent and several members of the Kansas City Board of Education and other members of the public.
Judy Pfannenstiel, who presented the report in Jefferson City, said the most important finding was that charter schools didn’t appear to be enticing higher-performing and white students from public schools. Charter school critics had feared that the new schools would attract the district’s best students.
On the contrary, the law encourages enrollment of minorities and lower-income students in charter schools, Pfannenstiel said.
"Many of the charter schools took that as their mission," she said.
Peter Herschend, a state Board of Education member from Branson, asked Pfannenstiel: "At the end of the day, what we’re interested in is: Are the youngsters in these charter schools going to get an education that is better — not just equal to — what is offered by Kansas City?"
She said it was hard to compare, but "after controlling for everything, they look pretty similar."
She said the study provided baseline data that would be used in future evaluations.
The study compares Missouri Assessment Program scores in spring 2000 between students at charter schools and district schools that offer the same grade levels and similar percentages of poor and minority students. Schools with particular missions, such as college preparatory schools or foreign language immersion schools, were compared to each other.
Among elementary schools with very high numbers of poor and minority students, the four charter schools all had a larger percentage of students score in the lowest two levels than did comparable district schools.
Pfannenstiel identified one charter school — Scuola Vita Nuova — as a racially mixed elementary school with a high percentage of poor students. She compared its test scores with those at four similar district schools. The Scuola Vita Nuova students scored significantly better than the district schools’ students.
However, in its second year, Scuola Vita Nuova expanded and its students performed worse on the MAP test last spring than they did in spring 2000.
The report also compared Edison Educational Village, a charter school, with Elementary II Montessori School and Holliday Montessori School, two district schools that also offer kindergarten through 8th grade to mostly minority students who have a mix of socioeconomic backgrounds.
Students at Edison Educational Village generally scored lower than the students at the two Montessori schools. Edison Educational Village’s scores did improve in the school’s second year.
In comparing foreign language schools, the report found that students at the Kansas City Foreign Language Charter School, also known as Academie Lafayette, generally scored better or the same as students at the district’s foreign language immersion schools.
Academie Lafayette students have the best MAP scores among charter schools, sometimes scoring above the state average.
Pfannenstiel said it was hard to find a district middle school similar to Southwest Charter School, because only about one third of Southwest’s students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, compared with much higher proportions at district middle schools.
Southwest’s students in the first year scored better than district middle school students on the MAP tests. In the schools’ second year, when it added a large number of students, its test scores declined.
Students at the two other charter middle schools — Urban Community Leadership Academy and Westport Edison Middle Academy — generally performed about the same or slightly worse than district middle school students.
Among high schools, Westport Edison Senior Academy had lower scores than two district high schools and about the same as two others.
The report also compared test scores at Hogan Preparatory Academy, a charter school that used to be a private school, and the district’s Lincoln Prep High School.
The Lincoln Prep students scored better than the Hogan students. In Hogan’s first year as a charter, more than three in four students scored in the two lowest levels on the MAP.
At Lincoln Prep, the highest percentage of students in any subject scoring in the bottom two levels was 46 percent in 10th grade science. In communication arts, just 5 percent scored in the bottom two levels, and in social studies, just 9 percent.
Hogan did improve some of its scores in its second year.