Thursday, December 12, 2013
The state’s first two charter schools had strong first years, although there is still room for improvement, according to the state commission that oversees them.
Both the Cornville Regional Charter School, in Cornville, and the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences, in Fairfield, have fulfilled their mission statements and expectations of their contracts, according to reports released by the Maine Charter School Commission earlier this month.
The commission evaluates the performance of the state’s charter schools through announced and unannounced school visits and releases an annual monitoring report. The undated reports for the two schools, which were completed over the summer, were made public after review by the Department of Education, according to Jana Lapoint, the commission’s chairwoman.
“We were very pleased with both schools. There was very little that gave us cause for concern,” Lapoint said.
The two charter schools opened in the fall of 2012 after Maine became the 41st state to allow charter schools, which are public schools that receive some state funds but are operated by community members, parents or teachers. Charter schools are exempt from some state regulations, but students still are required to take standardized tests used for calculating proficiency in mathematics and reading. Lapoint said their evaluations are based on contracts that the school develops with the commission before it is approved to open. The standards are similar to requirements that the state sets for traditional public schools, she said.
Because the schools are so new, there is not enough data for the state Department of Education to assign them A through F letter grades, the method of evaluation used for other public schools in the state, department spokeswoman Samantha Warren said.
In the future, the schools will receive letter grades, which were introduced in the 2012-2013 school year and are based on standardized test scores, students’ progress on those tests over time and the performance and growth of students.
Acting education commissioner Jim Rier said in a news release that based on the commission reports, the Department of Education is pleased with the two charter schools’ progress in their first year.
“With encouraging reports from an independent commission and the continued overwhelmingly positive student and family feedback and outcomes, it’s time to move beyond the debate about publicly-funded charter schools in our state and accept they are here to stay. I applaud these new school communities on their early success,” Rier said.
The commission used testing results from the 2012-2013 school year as a benchmark by which future results can be measured and that later will provide a clearer indication of progress, Lapoint said.
For students at the Cornville school, results of the regional NECAP test showed that student proficiency rates were well below Maine’s average in mathematics and just slightly above average for reading. The test was administered within two weeks of school starting, which means it is more of a reflection of students’ educational background instead of their learning at the charter school, said Justin Belanger, executive director of the Cornville school.
Belanger was generally pleased with his school’s performance and the evaluation process.
“It was a very thorough process and we appreciate the commission’s hard work, because that is how our school will improve,” Belanger said.
At MeANS in Fairfield, 11th-grade students took the SAT, which in Maine is used to asses high school proficiency rates, but state and federal laws prevent the release of results because of the small size of the class, according to the department. Only 10 students took the test, Lapoint said.
For the high school, part of the evaluation also included graduation rates and the numbers of students who are employed or enrolled in postsecondary education after graduation.
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