No local charter school is top rated

Eleven Miami Valley 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 Dayton Daily News 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 charter schools in the bottom two rating levels are considered specialized schools because they are either dropout recovery schools for students ages 16 to 22 or they serve a special education population where 50 percent or more of the kids have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

When comparing the ratings of traditional schools with charters, Lombardo said, “It’s not comparing apples to apples.”

Lombardo said high schools cannot achieve “Excellent with Distinction” because the value-added measure only applies to students in grades 4-8 so that puts the charters at a disadvantage against districts, which can attain that measure.

In the Miami Valley, 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.

DECA fell two notches from its 2010-11 rating of “Excellent with Distinction.” The school for grades 7-12 was the only local charter to achieve that A-plus rating last year.

Last year, Improved Solutions for Urban Systems, known as ISUS, had three charter institutes of construction technology, health care and manufacturing in the “Excellent” category. The award-winning charter school suspended its operations this school year because of financial troubles.

DECA Superintendent Judy Hennessey said it was disappointing to fall in the ratings but she said school officials expected that to happen because it made a conscious effort to focus on getting all their students ready for eighth-grade algebra. The more rigorous math for seventh-graders resulted in a drop in math scores.

The new graduation requirement also negatively impacted DECA’s overall rating because many of the high school students opt to attend five years to gain more college credit. “Anybody who stays a fifth year is counted as a dropout,” she said.

DECA’s graduation rate was 71.4 percent, the highest of any charter in the region.

None of the 23 area charters where the graduation rate applies met that indicator under the new formula which redefines “on-time” as any student who graduates within four years of their high school start year. The U.S. Department of Education required states to adopt a uniform four-year graduation rate that officials say doesn’t undercount dropouts and produce inflated results.

The performance index is one of four measures that determine a charter school’s rating. The others are state indicators met, and how schools performed on the state’s growth measures of Adequate Yearly Progress and value-added. Of the four, the performance index is widely considered to be the best barometer of a school’s overall performance. The ODE defines the measure as reflective of the “achievement of every student enrolled for the full academic year.”

The top performing charters locally based performance index scores, out of a possible 120 points, were Mound Street Military Careers Academy, 99.3; DECA, 99.1; Mound Street IT Careers Academy, 98.5; Fairborn Digital Academy, 95.6; and Pathway School of Discovery, 95.2.

Mound Street Academies Superintendent Will Couts was pleased with his schools’ performances. The Military Street Careers Academy, whose rating climbed from “Continuous Improvement” to “Effective,” saw its PI score jump 19 points.

“We instituted some new targeted interventions for our students” at the dropout recovery school, he said.

Dayton Business Technology High School, which like DECA is sponsored by the Dayton Public Schools, saw it ratings climb two spots, from “Academic Emergency” to “Continuous Improvement.”

But two other charter schools slipped two levels from “Continuous Improvement” to “Academic Emergency.” Those were Dayton Leadership Academies - Dayton View campus and Klepinger Community School.

Dayton Leadership Academies - Dayton Liberty campus, which slipped back to “Academic Watch” from “Continuous Improvement,” escaped possible shutdown by the state because it avoided an “Academic Emergency” rating.

The ODE will post a new list of charter schools at risk of state closure after the final report cards are released later.

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