One of the central elements of the charter idea is that schools will be given greater flexibility in how they operate in exchange for greater responsibility for results. Because of the federal No Child Left Behind Legislation, all public schools have responsibility to ensure students achieve at certain levels, or there will be negative consequences.
However charter schools have, along with more ability to make decisions about how to operate, even greater responsibility to show improved student achievement. This part of the charter handbook is divided into three sections:
Current Minnesota requirements regarding accountability
CSC recommendations, based on national research, about how charters should deal with accountability and assessment issues
Current Minnesota law:
Minnesota currently requires that all public school students, including public charter school students, take several statewide tests. As this handbook is being completed, Minnesota requires all public school students to take the following tests:
3rd grade: reading and math
5th grade: reading and math
8th grade: reading and math (which students must pass prior to graduation)
9th grade: writing (which students must pass prior to graduation)
11th grade: science and social studies
However, Minnesota’s standardized testing requirements are changing. Under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, all students in grades 2-8 will be tested annually in reading and math using state developed tests. Moreover, students in high school will be assessed in several areas. Under the NCLB, annual report cards are issued for each school in the state and under-performing schools are placed on an Adequate Yearly Progress list. Consequences and additional support come with being placed on this list. The federal law and state implementation of the law are complicated and will impact your school. For more information on state level accountability measures associated with No Child Left Behind, please see education.state.mn.us/html/intro_fed_prog_nclb.htm.
Center for School Change Recommendations to Charter School Developers:
Several years ago the U.S. Department of Education asked the Center for School Change to develop key ideas about how to hold charter (and other public schools) accountable for results. In a report,“What Should We Do?”, the CSC explains six vital, and three valuable, features of accountability. We strongly urge everyone hoping to start a charter school to review this report. It contains many examples of how other charter schools have dealt with evaluation issues.
I. Clear, Explicit, Measurable Goals.
We strongly recommend charter schools develop 4-5 clear, measurable, school-wide goals. The goal ought to include:
- a specific percentage of people involved
- the change to be measured
- the method of assessment
- and the time over which the goal is going to be measured
Note: Some goals may be year-to-year, some might be goals the school aims to achieve over the period of its contract. For example:
- At least 80% of the students who attend the school for at least 8 months will make at least a year’s worth of progress in reading and math, as measured by the (Stanford, ETS or other) test.
- Over the first three years, there will be at least a five percent gain in the percentage of students who are at or above grade level on the (Stanford, ETS or other) test.
- Over the first three years, at least 75% of students will move at least one level on a pre-post test of writing assessment developed by the school and its outside evaluator.
- All students, prior to graduation, will present a 5-minute speech describing a project they have completed. This speech will be judged at least “good,” on a scale ranging from poor to excellent, by a group of evaluators including faculty and community experts.
II. Non-Academic Goals
Charter schools should have non-academic goals as well. Such goals might include:
- At least 50% of families whose students attend this school will attend at least one family/student/teacher conference each year
- At least 75% of the school’s seniors will apply for entrance into at least three post-secondary institutions
- At least 15 members of the community will share their expertise with students over the coming year
- Over the next three years, the school will establish internships and apprenticeships for at least 25% of its students
KEY: Goals should widely understood and supported by faculty, families and students. It is not good enough to have goals, if they are not known, understood and embraced by faculty, families and students.
III. Multiple Measures
Multiple measures are used to assess progress. As noted in the examples of measurable goals given above, the CSC strongly believes that schools should use standardized tests AND other measures such as, but not limited to:
- standardized tests, which are required in Minnesota
- pre-post writing measures
- and achieving a benchmark level of proficiency in public speaking.
That is why the CSC strongly recommends use of multiple measures such as those described above, to help give a fuller picture of the progress students are making. Using a variety of measures also shows students that the school values a broader range of skills, beyond those that can be measured by standardized tests.
- Having an independent evaluator. An evaluation coordination can help the educators and the charter board decide on how to assess the school. Student assessment is a complex, though vital, field. Minnesota charter schools have had extensive experience with evaluators. Outside evaluators can be enormously valuable when the school wants to request that its contract be renewed. A professional evaluator can help give the school credibility as it presents findings that (hopefully) show the school’s students are making progress, and that the contract should be renewed.
- Creating an evaluation committee. CSC recommends these committees include faculty, families, community members, and in the case of secondary schools, students. These committees can help guide and oversee the school’s evaluation program. In some cases, these committees include a professional evaluator, whether from a local or nearby university, or an independent evaluation consultant, such as described above.
- Surveying graduates to gather important information. Some schools that have lasted decades periodically interview graduates. Again the idea is to help the school learn what it is doing well, and what can/should be improved. Some schools make the graduate survey something that current students do as a part of their course work. This has the added benefit of helping students apply some of the ideas of writing and research and statistics they are learning.
Many other resources on evaluation and assessment are available. Among the best are those produced by the following:
The Northwest Regional Laboratory has developed a workbook on Assessment and Accountability especially for people starting charter schools. We strongly recommend reviewing this publication:nwrel.org/charter/Workbook/cs_workbook3.pdf
Charter Friends Network: charterfriends.org/cfi-accountability.html
National Center on Educational Outcomes – this University of Minnesota Center focuses on outcomes for students with special needs. However, their website has many excellent suggestions: education.umn.edu/NCEO/
The Mid-continent research for Education and Learning has compiled a large database of standards, in many curriculum areas: mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/