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Research Shows the Success of Charter Schools

A new University of Indianapolis study suggests that students with achievement deficits experience greater academic growth in charter schools than similar students at traditional public schools.

The study and subsequent report, A Comparison of Student Academic Growth between Indiana Charter Schools and Traditional Public Schools, was prepared by the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) at the University of Indianapolis, in collaboration with Research and Evaluation Resources. Key findings:

•Charter school students differ from traditional school students in critical ways: They enter charter schools at an academic disadvantage relative to their traditional school counterparts, as evidenced by their entering scores on the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP), and they are more likely to be members of minority groups and low-income households.

•Charter schools have the same attendance and stability rates as traditional schools.

•Students who had been enrolled at least two years in their charter school showed significantly greater academic growth when compared to a controlled sample of students from traditional Indiana schools that were similar in demographic characteristics and baseline academic achievement. Charter school students showed 22% more growth in reading, 18% more growth in math and 25% more growth in language usage.

•The growth in reading and language usage for charter students exceeded national growth averages. Math growth was on a par with the national average.

•Cost per unit of academic growth was lower in charter schools.

The study was commissioned by Indiana Black Expo, the Indianapolis Urban League and the DeHaan Family Foundation. “We support efforts to identify successful educational practices that can be replicated by any school working to improve academic achievement,” said Joseph A. Slash, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League. “Charter schools represent one option.”

The study used information from the Indiana Department of Education to compare students in 40 charter schools throughout the state with traditional public school students in those same communities, including Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Evansville, Gary, Richmond, Lafayette, New Albany, Noblesville and Carmel. The data included attendance, enrollment stability, ISTEP scores, teacher salaries, student-teacher ratio and spending per pupil.

The researchers then examined scores from across the state on the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) twice-annual Measures of Academic Progress, to gauge academic growth in reading, language usage and math from Fall 2006 through Spring 2008. All Indiana charter schools and 126 school districts in the state use the NWEA assessment, making it well suited for such a comparison.

CELL researchers caution that while the differences in growth between charter and traditional students are statistically significant, the specific factors that contributed to the academic growth are not known. Also, no conclusions can be drawn about academic gains for students who do not fit the socioeconomic and educational profile of the students studied.

“These results are very interesting, but more long-term analyses are needed to see if the findings are stable and if the same patterns emerge when we measure the outcome in different ways,” said Mary Jo Rattermann, chief researcher.

The third area of study, cost effectiveness, sought to determine the cost to produce one unit of academic growth in a student on the NWEA assessment. Using that gauge, charter schools produced greater gains in achievement for every dollar spent than did comparable traditional public schools. However, only general fund expenses were compared, and other factors may exist that were not included in the study.

The researchers note that their work, while not the first to analyze the impact of charter schools, represents a different way of benchmarking academic success by not basing it on traditional achievement testing practices that are designed to determine whether a student meets a fixed minimum standard, such as ISTEP cut scores. Instead, the CELL study examined specific academic growth over a period of time.

While far from definitive, the study points to several directions for further research, including studies that evaluate specific aspects of charter school students’ experiences as well as those of students in traditional public schools that are most associated with gains in academic achievement.

CELL has been engaged in research and school improvement initiatives since its founding in 2001. The nonpartisan center’s mission is to support schools and communities in identifying, implementing and evaluating educational models that are best suited to local needs. More information can be found at http://cell.uindy.edu.

The University of Indianapolis is an independent, comprehensive institution of higher education serving 4,700 students on its home campus, and several hundred more at its wholly owned branch in Athens, Greece. Its challenging undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs include nationally ranked offerings in the health sciences. Two centers of excellence make UIndy a leader in education reform and aging studies. More information is available at www.uindy.edu.

CONTACT: Scott Hall, director of media relations, at 317-788-3583 (office) or 317-371-5240 (mobile), or via e-mail at schall@uindy.edu.

Source: University of Indianapolis

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