Share This Page

Pennsylvania charter schools defend test scores

The latest Pennsylvania assessment test scores show that more charter school students are underperforming than students at traditional public schools.

Among charter school students, about 20 percent didn't meet basic academic standards in reading and math, compared with about 12 percent of district students, according to 2009 Pennsylvania System of Student Assessment test results.

"I get very upset when a report comes out and then people think that charter schools are no good," said Richard Wertheimer, founder, CEO and principal of City Charter High School, Downtown, which was given a warning last year because not enough black students met state math standards.

Whether a school meets federally-mandated student achievement goals is based on the number of students who score as advanced or proficient, meaning they showed a solid understanding of the material. About 75 percent of Pennsylvania public school students scored advanced or proficient in reading and math, compared with about 59 percent of charter school students.

"The discussion of quality schools always revolves around a test," said Wertheimer. "At our school, our mission wasn't to raise test scores; it was to graduate students with great talents and abilities, and for them, a year after they've left here, to be successful at what they're doing."

A recently released Department of Education-funded study of 36 charter middle schools in 15 states found they performed about the same as traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior and attendance.

Robert Furman, director of the principal certification program in Duquesne University's School of Education, said charter schools are a popular alternative for students struggling in public schools.

"Right at the get-go, you are getting a population that is not predisposed to higher achievement," he said. "I think that's a real factor."

Linda M. Clautti, CEO of Northside Urban Pathways, a Downtown charter school, said charter schools often have to get students up to speed on things they should already know.

"We're expected, in a year, to make them proficient, but that is near impossible because of (the struggling school districts) they come from," she said.

Jeremy Resnick, executive director and founder of South Side-based Propel Schools, which serves more than 2,000 students at six locations in Allegheny Count,y said he believes that during the next five to 10 years, student achievement at charter schools will improve.

The federally-funded study found that charter schools with the highest percentages of disadvantaged students saw the math and reading scores of low-income or low-achieving students improve by their second year at the school.

At Propel Schools, nearly 75 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, and 77 percent of students were proficient in math and 65 percent in reading, according to 2008-09 PSSA results. Nearly two-thirds of City Charter's 570 students are disadvantaged, yet the school has met state academic standards in all but two years since 2005.

Part of that success is due to small student population and more individual attention, Wertheimer said.

"I don't want anyone to think that charter schools are the magic wand," he said. "But if a child walks in here with a terrible educational background or something that has not gone well in their life, I can say we will be on it much faster than any traditional public schools I know."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.