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Students at charter-run Locke do better than nearby peers

Locke students were more likely to graduate and to have taken courses needed for a state college, a study says. Still, overall achievement remains low.

May 14, 2012|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times

Students at Locke High School are faring better than their peers in nearby traditional schools, but achievement overall remains low at the charter-managed campus near Watts, according to a new study.

Still, the Locke students were more likely to graduate and to have taken courses needed to apply to a four-year state college, according to the UCLA-based National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing. The ongoing research has been funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In a much-watched reform initiative, Green Dot Public Schools became the first outside charter operator to take over a Los Angeles Unified campus in 2008. Green Dot has divided Locke into five small schools, replaced most of the faculty and tried to instill a college-going culture while also making the campus more secure.

The study analyzed two groups of students: The first enrolled in one of two small Watts-area Green Dot charters before the organization took control of Locke; the second, starting a year later, attended the Locke campus managed by Green Dot. Students in both groups were compared to peers who had similar test scores and demographics in middle school but subsequently attended one of three nearby high schools run by L.A. Unified: Fremont, Jordan and Washington Prep.

In the study, Locke graduated 42% of students from the Class of 2011, compared to rates ranging from 34% to 39% at the other schools. In addition, 37% of those Locke students fulfilled the college-prep requirements for admission to a four-year school; 20% at the nearby schools did so.

Also in the Class of 2011, 44% of Locke students remained in school from ninth grade through 12th grade, compared with 37% of the students from L.A. Unified, the study found.

But both Green Dot and the L.A. Unified schools lost about 30% of students between the fall semester of ninth grade and the fall semester of 10th grade. There was another "big drop," as researchers put it, between the fall and spring semesters.

"We are encouraged by these positive results but also humbled by the hard work before us," said Marco Petruzzi, Green Dot's chief executive.

Green Dot's edge in college prep appears to continue for the second group of students in the study, who are seniors this year. In English, the Locke students and those in L.A. Unified posted essentially the same results on standardized tests, with close to half scoring as advanced, proficient or basic — the top three categories among five on state tests. In math, however, the Locke students were significantly better, 14% to 7%.

The three L.A. Unified comparison schools have shown steady academic gains even as overall achievement remains low. Two of them underwent significant shake-ups in recent years. Then-Supt. Ramon Cortines installed a mostly new faculty at Fremont, and last year the Jordan campus was split and turned over to Green Dot and to a nonprofit under the control of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

A Times analysis last August compared progress at Locke with that at traditional schools and under other reform initiatives, including the mayor's. It looked at student proficiency rates at all district schools that were in the bottom 20% statewide as of July 1, 2008.

That review found that the district-run schools frequently outpaced the outside organizations. At district high schools, scores rose 7.8 percentage points in English and 6.3 points in math. Over that same period, Locke High showed a 5.1 percentage point increase in English scores and a 5.7 percentage point increase in math.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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