DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. -- Duval’s charter schools performed worse than the district’s public schools on state tests.
Recently released results from the annual Florida Standards Assessments and from state end-of-course exams reveal that in 17 out of 22 tests on reading, math, science, history and civics, charter schools averaged fewer students passing the tests than those in district schools.
In some tests and subjects, far fewer. The biggest differences were in science.
Nearly three out of four Duval students taking biology last year passed its end-of-course exam, compared to less than half, 48.4 percent, of charter school students. Fifty-two percent of Duval’s fifth-graders passed that grade’s science test, compared to 41 percent of their charter school peers.
In every tested grade except sixth, Duval students’ English language arts passing rates and math passing rates exceeded charters.’
“You can see that our schools are improving at a faster clip,” said Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.
There were exceptions, where charters decisively outperformed district schools.
In sixth grade, 48 percent of charter school students passed math, compared to nearly 40 percent at district schools.
In algebra 1, charter schools passed 53 percent of students, 5 percentage points more than the district’s 48 percent. In Florida, high school students need to pass algebra 1 to graduate.
Also, in geometry, the difference between charter and district schools was about 19 percentage points; nearly 56 percent of charter school students passed compared to 37 percent of district students.
(The comparisons are estimates, because Florida obscures scores in grades with few students to protect their identities. That affects charter schools more than district school data.)
Charter schools are independently operated schools that compete with the district for students as well as state and federal tax dollars. Charter school students take the same tests as students in traditional public schools.
This is the second year for the Florida Standards Assessments, which took the place of the FCAT exams. Florida’s end-of-course exams also have been updated in recent years.
Vitti said that charter schools, in general, have not lived up to their missions and brought down Duval’s averages.
“I do want to raise a concern about charter school performance,” he said. “Charter schools were originally created as incubators of innovation and reform. … Certain schools are doing great things on behalf of children, but when you aggregate the performance of charter schools [in Duval County] we are challenged.”
Vitti said 64 percent of Duval’s elementary schools and 68 percent of its middle schools scored higher on tests than last year. But only a quarter of elementary charter schools and 47 percent of charter middle schools improved.
Similarly, 19 of Duval’s 22 high schools improved in reading and end-of-course exams, but only three of the 10 charter high schools did, he said. Many of the charter high schools specialize in students at risk of dropping out.
Some charter schools struggled more than others.
For instance, Somerset Preparatory Academy had the lowest passing rates among the charters in six of the 22 tests; while SOS Academy was lowest four times, and Duval Mycroschool was lowest three times.
Officials at SOS and Duval Mycroschool could not be reached for comment.
David Concepcion, a board member at the three Somerset charter schools in Jacksonville, directed questions about them to Lynn Norman-Teck, executive director of the Florida Charter School Alliance.
She said because the Florida Standards Assessments are only two years old, they shouldn’t be used to compare schools.
The test results only provide overall scores and passing rates, she said, but they don’t provide “learning gains,” which is an important measure of how much academic growth a student makes in a given year.
Passing rates can be closely linked to household incomes around a school — the richer a neighborhood or student body, the higher its passing rates and scores. Also a district school’s designation as a magnet school can affect outcomes; some Duval magnets draw mostly advanced or gifted students, for instance.
“I don’t like to compare schools sometimes because it’s not apples-to-apples,” Norman-Teck said.
Soon the state will release learning gain data along with state report card letter grades. They could more fairly describe a school’s influence on student achievement, she said.
Learning gains are the main way Florida evaluates certain charter high schools that specialize in students who are at risk of dropping out or who have already dropped out, said Angela Whitford-Narine, president of Accelerated Learning Solutions Florida, which runs two such high schools in Duval, Lone Star High and Biscayne High.
These so-called “drop-back-in” academies don’t yet know their learning gains data and won’t get letter grades, she said. Only a few of their students participated in this year’s FSAs, she said.
Other charter school operators added that charter schools get many new students each year who are far behind grade level.
KIPP Impact Middle School, for instance, had the lowest passing rates in fifth grade math among charter schools in Jacksonville. It got many of its fifth-graders from non-KIPP schools, said Tom Majdanics, executive director of the three KIPP schools in Jacksonville.
“Because KIPP Impact students come to us in fifth grade performing significantly below grade level — and in cohorts that are well below the district average — it’s hard to come up with a meaningful comparison,” he said. “We meet our students where they are at and we really focus on whether our students make progress once they’ve come to us.”
He said KIPP eighth-graders’ performance is a sign of the school’s progress.
“After a few years at KIPP, our eighth-graders’ [English language arts] and science pass rates are higher than the district average,” he said, “and half of our eighth-graders earned high school-level algebra credit this year. That’s far above the Duval average for eighth-grade completers.”
Majdanics said the school doesn’t compare itself with Duval schools; it sets its sights on college or careers after high school.
Norman-Teck agreed with that focus, adding that parents get to choose.
“The job of the charter schools is to get students to grade level [performance] and above,” she said.
“Not every school is a good fit for every child. You try to move them forward and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”