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Local charter school grades low, but most test scores rise

Dayton-area charter schools posted mainly low grades on the state report card last week, but for the second year in a row, a narrow majority of them increased their test scores from the previous year.

Nine of the 22 Montgomery County charter schools got overall grades of F’s, six had D’s, five received C’s and two earned B’s — Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) and Dayton Leadership Academies’ Early Learning Center, which serves only grades K-2.

Eleven of the 19 Montgomery County charters that received a performance index score saw it increase in the 2017-18 report card, after 12 of 20 schools increased the year before, according to Ohio Department of Education data.

RELATED: Controversy surrounds new A-F overall grades

Dayton SMART Elementary in east Dayton has shown the greatest test score improvement of local charter schools. The K-6 school’s performance index percentage increased from 47.9 to 53.1 last year, then soared to 61.6 this year, ranking behind only the two Dayton Early College Academy schools among local charters.

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Dayton SMART Principal Cindy Koth cited a mix of good teaching and intervention, high expectations, family involvement and connecting lessons to real-world situations through projects. The school’s overall report card grade was a C.

“Students that are struggling get small groups, and students above level are getting enrichment activities, to try to make sure all kids grow,” Koth said. “We want our kids who are on-level to make one-and-a-half years growth, and our struggling kids to make two years growth. We look really hard at the data and adjust our teaching and grouping to do that.”

MORE: How did Dayton-area charter schools do on the 2017-18 state report card?

Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) had by far the highest performance index among local charters, posting a 74.7 percentage that is on par with the Miamisburg and Vandalia-Butler school districts.

DECA also received A’s in year-over-year progress and gap closing between groups of students, en route to an overall grade of B, matching the Centerville and Kettering districts.

Pathway School of Discovery had the biggest decline in performance index from last year, dropping from 66.2 to 58.7 percent, although that still put it in the upper third of local charters.

Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director for the Fordham Institute — which studies education and sponsors charter schools — said the “value-added” or student progress grades are critical data for low-income schools, because they are more “poverty-neutral” than straight test scores.

RELATED: One charter school closes, another opens this fall

“You can see some differentiation in school quality via growth scores,” Churchill said. “There are some high-poverty public schools, both district and charter, that received an A on value-added. … Some of the other metrics just show all D’s and F’s and there’s no differentiation so that’s not very helpful.”

Local charters were all over the map on the state’s progress grade. DECA and Klepinger earned A’s for their student growth, while Emerson, Summit Dayton, Richard Allen II and Dayton Leadership Academies’ grade 3-8 school got F’s.

Because brick-and-mortar charter schools can only open in “challenged school districts” — Dayton, Trotwood-Madison and Jefferson Twp. locally — this newspaper generally compares local charter school results to the results in those districts.

RELATED: See report card grades for DPS, other district schools

For the third year in a row, local charter schools posted a higher performance index on state tests than the combination of Dayton, Trotwood and Jefferson schools, although the district schools cut that gap roughly in half. The median score for charter schools in 2017-18 was 48.5, while the median for those district schools was 45.9.

Dayton Public Schools again had the lowest-scoring individual schools, posting the eight lowest performance index scores. But a few of those scores could change, as both DPS and the state cited data reporting errors at DPS high school.

Also for the third year in a row, the district schools earned better student progress grades than the local charters, although that gap narrowed as well. The median year-over-year growth grade for the charters was a D, while the median for the district schools was a C.

“I think this year is fairly similar to years past — Ohio charters performed pretty comparably to the district schools that are nearby,” Churchill said.

LAST YEAR: See how local charter schools performed in 2016-17

STEM School: The Dayton Regional STEM School in Kettering earned B’s in achievement, student growth and overall grade on the state report card and posted an 85.0 performance index that matched Bellbrook for the third-highest score in the Dayton region. The STEM school, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math for students in grades 6-12, is not technically a district or charter school.

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