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Charters' Test Gains Higher, Study Says

Report shows greater improvement in student scores compared with traditional schools.

June 18, 2003|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

Elementary and high school students enrolled in charter schools in California made greater gains on standardized tests than students attending traditional campuses between 1999 and 2001 but still have lower scores overall, according to a study released Tuesday.

The report, conducted by a researcher from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is expected to add to the national debate about charter schools, which are publicly funded but exempt from many regulations. Other recent studies questioned the performance of charters, saying their students lag those in public schools.

The Hoover report analyzed Academic Performance Index test results beginning in 1999, when such data were first available from the state. It found that overall average scores in charter schools showed faster growth than among those at regular public schools but still lag because charters often enroll many students who were not doing well at other schools.

For example, in 2001 the average API test score was 612 for charter high schools and 635 for traditional high schools. But the charter high schools boosted their scores by 37 points on average from 1999 to 2001, compared with 18 points for traditional campuses.

The comparative gains for charter elementary school students were minimal, according to the report. In 2001, the average API test score was 676 for charter elementary schools and 691 for traditional campuses. The rate of improvement from 1999 to 2001 was 60 for charter schools, compared with 58 for traditional campuses.

The differences were more pronounced when charter schools were directly compared with public schools in their districts with similar populations.

Margaret Raymond, who directed the study, said the results "show great promise for the future of charter schools."

"If these trends continue, charter schools in another few years will be not only at the level of traditional schools but exceeding them," she said.

The analysis compared 316 charter elementary, middle and high school in California with their public school counterparts. But there were too few charter middle schools to draw significant conclusions about those students' performance, Raymond said.

Other recent studies, including one released last year by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., have suggested less promise at charters. The Brookings study found that 59% of students at traditional public schools scored better on reading and math achievement tests than charter school students between 1999 and 2000.

Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley, said he could see why charter advocates would be pleased by the Hoover study. Charters achieved those test scores with fewer resources, according to Fuller, who directed a recent survey finding that charters did not have adequate funding or credentialed teachers.

But Fuller added that the Hoover findings about high schools may not be significant because the overall score growth has been relatively small at both charters and public high schools.

Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington-based organization, said the Hoover findings support her organization's belief that disadvantaged students can thrive at charter schools.

"Given the higher standards coupled with the fact that students are coming in as lower-achieving ... it is no surprise that students in charter schools are improving," she said.

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