Learning outcomes mixed at seven charters poised for renewal

Students achievement is a mixed bag at several public charter schools gearing up for renewal from the state in the coming months.

The Idaho Public Charter School Commission on Thursday took an early look at a range of learning outcomes at seven of its 57 charters. Some of the schools are thriving academically, despite demographic challenges. But others aren’t, according to numbers presented at the meeting.

Schools discussed Thursday are all on tap for renewal consideration from the commission in June. The commission’s 57 charters make up nearly three-fourths of the state’s 77 public charters.

Schools on Thursday’s agenda include:

  • Montecelio Montessori Charter (Ammon)
  • Project Impact STEM Academy (Kuna)
  • Peace Valley Charter (Boise)
  • Rolling Hills Public Charter (Boise)
  • North Idaho STEM Academy (Rathdrum)
  • Legacy Charter School (Nampa)
  • North Valley Academy (Gooding)

North Idaho STEM Academy impressed commissioners with high scores on several standardized tests considered Thursday. The school’s 2021 math and English language arts proficiency scores both came back at 90% in 2021. Math and ELA scores from a commission-assigned comparison group of schools were much lower, at 41% and 57%, respectively.

In recent years, the charter commission redeveloped its process for measuring a range of performance outcomes at schools it oversees. Now, a charter’s performance is compared to districts or groups of districts of comparable demographics, as determined by the commission.

The academy similarly outshined its comparison group — which comprises schools the Lakeland, Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls school districts — in early reading scores. The academy’s spring 2021 literacy proficiency rate was 90%, up from 75% from the fall of the same school year, according to scores from the Idaho Reading indicator, a screener for kindergarten- through third-grade students. The comparison group’s fall and spring scores during that same time: 44% and 70%, respectively.

But another charter wowed commissioners for the wrong reasons Thursday. Peace Valley Charter trailed its comparison group, the Boise district, by double-digit margins in both 2021 math and ELA proficiency, with scores of just 16% and 37%, respectively. Boise’s math and ELA scores the same school year were 44% and 57%.

And Peace Valley’s 2020-21 IRI proficiency scores fell from spring to fall of the 2020-21 school year, plunging 32% to just 21%. Boise’s IRI proficiency scores jumped from 61% to 67% that same year.

“Wow,” commission chair Alan Reed said of Peace Valley’s scores.

Commission director Jenn Thompson stressed that Peace Valley has made some key changes, including at the administrative level, since the scores presented Thursday were tallied. And Idaho’s Spring 2022 scores increased across the board, newer numbers show — including at Peace Valley. But the school’s latest spring scores still fell to the bottom of the statewide pack, with just 30% of its early readers reading at grade level.

Scores at Monticello Montessori also trailed the school’s comparison group by every measure. Following a presentation from staff Thursday, commissioner Wanda Quinn asked Thompson to invite both Peace Valley and Monticello to the commission’s next meeting to discuss the challenges.

Demographic data also surfaced Thursday

Thursday’s meeting also included discussion of student demographics used to create comparison groups by which each charter’s performance gets measured. Despite North Idaho STEM Academy’s soaring scores, the school’s demographics show that it is much less diverse than its comparison group in terms of both economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities:

  • 30% of the academy’s enrollment was considered economically disadvantaged in 2021, compared to the comparison group’s 48%.
  • Just 1% of the school is made up of students with disabilities, yet the comparison group has 12%.
  • Non-white and hispanic populations were both within a percentage point.

And as commissioner Nils Peterson pointed out Thursday, “Some (charters) with higher ‘demographic disadvantage’ are doing better (than their comparison groups) academically, and some are not.”

One charter that defied the odds, at least in part: Project Impact STEM Academy. Nearly half of the school’s students were economically disadvantaged in 2021, compared to just 25% in it’s comparison group, the Kuna School District. The charter’s population of students with disabilities also exceeded the district’s, 17% to 24%, though its non-white and Hispanic enrollments trailed the district’s by seven and five percentage points, respectively.

Still, the charter outperformed the district in math, ELA and spring IRI scores for the years considered Thursday.

It’s been “interesting” to compare charter performance in light of demographic realities, Thompson told commissioners, acknowledging that the past insistence from some charters that their performance drags because they enroll a more diverse group of students doesn’t appear to always check out.

The seven-member commission’s role includes approving new charters and school-performance frameworks, tracking outcomes and closing struggling schools, which has only happened twice in the commission’s more than 20 years of existence.

Click here for Thursday’s agenda packet, and scroll down for performance breakdowns of each school discussed during the meeting.

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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