published Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Chattanooga charter scores 'below basic'

by Kelli Gauthier

Despite abysmally low standardized test scores, the leader of one of Chattanooga's charter schools insist the experiment has not failed.

The 2010 Tennessee State Report Card showed that a mere 2 percent of middle school students at the all-girls Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy performed at or above grade level in math, and 83 percent had very little grasp of the material, scoring "below basic."

Reading/language arts scores were only slightly better, with 6 percent of CGLA's sixth-grade students proficient or advanced. A little more than half, 56 percent, were below basic in reading/language arts.

High schoolers scored better, with 13 percent at or above grade level in math and 67 percent below basic, according to the Report Card.

Anita Bordeaux, executive director of CGLA, said she is confident families will continue to support the school.

"I would say to stick with us because we are working diligently to meet the needs of the students who are coming from underperforming schools and who have underperformed, but it will take time," she said.

Meanwhile, students at Chattanooga's other charter school, Ivy Academy, performed better on standardized tests. The Report Card showed 33 percent of its high schoolers scoring at or above grade level in math and another 33 percent scoring below basic.


• In Tennessee, charter schools only can enroll students who attend a low-performing public school, who have themselves done poorly on standardized tests, or whose family incomes make them eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.*

• Charter schools often have a theme and more flexibility in scheduling and curriculum.

• The Hamilton County Board of Education recently approved the formation of a third charter school, the Chattanooga Charter School of Excellence, which will open this fall as the system's first elementary charter.

* Applies only to students in districts with 14,000 or more students, or at least two high-priority schools.

Marie Daly, Ivy's founding executive director, said it's difficult to work hard with students before knowing the academic areas in which they struggle.

"[The scores] were not what we hoped, but a lot of kids did better than they did in the previous year, their eighth-grade year," she said. "But we're working really hard to make that much stronger next time around."

Daly said Ivy administrators have rescheduled several days of the week to focus specifically on skills students will need to pass their End of Course exams. Those largely determine whether high schools meet annual federal performance benchmarks, or make "Adequate Yearly Progress," commonly known as AYP.

"When you bring kids in and you're trying to change everything and work faster with them, it works, but sometimes people need time to ease into their environment," she said.

Hamilton County Board of Education member Jeffrey Wilson said the charter schools' scores show there is much more work to be done across the entire school district.

"Charter schools are not intended to be the savior of public schools," he said.

Superintendent Jim Scales agreed, saying there clearly is no "magical silver bullet" to turn around failing schools and students.

"I don't think the people who have formed the charter schools need to give up on the process," he said. "They need to refocus and work hard."

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about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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AngieMarkum said...

Ms. Gauthier,

The title of this article is misleading. ALL schools have students who score "below basic." A majority of the Ivy Academy Students, 67.8% according to your graphic, scored at basic level or higher. Maybe a better title would have been, Majority of Charter School Students are Basic or Better.

Keep in mind that 100% of these students were either underperforming themselves when they came to the charter, or the schools where they came from were underperforming. The fact that any of the students scored at basic or above is an improvement from where they were. The charter schools should be praised or at minimum encouraged in their endeavor for taking on the education of these students and making a difference.

After hearing the responses from several community members, it is evident that your article sets a negative tone towards these charter schools. Was that your intent? If not, maybe you should reconsider your wording for future articles. Students at one of the charters remarked that the article sure did make it seem like their school was not doing a good job, and asked me why someone would write such an article. I told them that I didn't know, but that they could ask you.

Sincerely, Angie Markum Life-long resident of the Tennessee Valley, Educator since 1985

January 20, 2011 at 11:28 p.m.
mjds said...

It is amazing that your article clearly focuses on your personal opinions of Charter Schools. Whatever happened to reporting the facts based on true records-not facts based on personal opinions? Charter schools have not been welcomed in a positive manner in Hamilton County and that is a shame. Educators and Administrators should be focused on what is best for our children in the community. If that means admitting that traditional public education is not working, then band together and find a solution. If that means welcoming Charter Schools, then that is what needs to be done. I have heard nothing but positive feedback from parents that have children attend Ivy Academy. Maybe THAT is what you need to be reporting on in future articles!

January 21, 2011 at 2:39 p.m.
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