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.
ABOUT CHARTER SCHOOLS
• 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."