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Published: Tuesday, 8/16/2005

Many charters expected to get low state ratings

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Nearly 60 percent of charter schools in Ohio that will receive a state rating today will be labeled in the lowest possible category.

There were 264 charter schools operating during the 2004-05 school year, but only 130 will receive a rating when the Ohio Department of Education releases individual data this morning on every school in the state.

The state first began attaching the labels of academic emergency, academic watch, continuous improvement, effective, and excellent to districts and schools because of proficiency test performance, attendance, and graduation rate in 1999.

Of the 130 rated charter schools: 77 will be in academic emergency, 15 in academic watch, 24 will be in continuous improvement, 9 will be effective, and 5 will be excellent.

Mitchell Chester, Ohio's associate superintendant for policy, declined to comment on why a higher percentage of charter schools were ranked in the bottom two categories over the previous year. "Certainly, it is a point of concern to see any of our schools in academic watch or emergency," he said.

J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education, said charter schools, which are called community schools in Ohio, would not receive a rating if they haven't operated for at least two years or had less than 10 students taking each of the standardized tests.

Seventy-one percent of the charter schools fall in the lowest two categories. In the previous year, 56 percent were on academic watch or in academic emergency.

Of the 130 schools, 97 missed the federal adequate yearly progress goal. The threshold requires all school districts to show progress among all students - minorities, children from low-income families, those with disabilities or with limited English skills, and those in special education.

During the 2003-04 school year, 112 charter schools received ratings. Forty-six were in academic emergency, 17 were on academic watch, 43 were in continuous improvement, 5 were effective, and 1 was excellent.

Allison Perz, executive director of the Toledo-based Ohio Council of Community Schools, which sponsors 45 charter schools statewide including eight in Lucas County, said the lower designations are to be expected.

"The one thing you have to look at, our schools experienced explosive growth, and the majority of those [students] are coming out of the traditional public schools two to five years below school level," Ms. Perz said.

She also said traditional public schools benefit by having poor-performing students transfer into charter schools.

Jerri Heer, administrative director of the Alliance Academy of Toledo, said her charter school was among those that will not receive a rating today, but noted the school would have been in continuous improvement if the state counted those with fewer than 10 students in some groups.

"Because our numbers of bodies were so low, we didn't meet the minimum threshold," Ms. Heer said.

She also defended charter schools despite the high percentage now on academic watch and in academic emergency.

"When I look at the students we get in and how many years they are behind, there is a lot of catch-up to do and that does not happen overnight," Ms. Heer said.

Jim George, director of the community schools division for the Lucas County Educational Service Center, which sponsors 109 schools statewide, said he was encouraged to see that the number of schools in the top two categories had more than doubled over last year.

"Our schools are required to submit their academic goals and the specific curriculum they will be using to us as the sponsor," Mr. George said. "They are held accountable to those criteria."

But Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders, who has been critical of charter schools, said the data set to be released today reinforce his belief that charter schools chronically fail to educate students.

"It validates to me how unfortunate it is for a number of parents in our city and statewide choosing this option when they are not performing," he said. "It spells out for me the lack of accountability statewide."

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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