Last Friday, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released its DC Report Card which ranks schools in the nation’s capital on a School Transparency and Reporting (STAR) framework of one to five, with five being best. This effort is the result of the State Board of Education’s effort to comply with the U.S. Congresses’ Every Student Succeed Act which required that states offer a measurement of the quality of its public educational institutions as a substitute for the Annual Yearly Progress measure under the No Child Left Behind law.
Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, pointed me to the excellent analysis of the new grading scheme conducted by Empowerk12. This is only the start for this organization as there is much more number crunching to come. It offers in great detail a comparison between STAR grading and the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework. I will not pretend for one minute to understand all the nuances of its conclusions. But I can offer some overall general observations regarding our city’s charter schools after looking at the data.
My biggest question about the new ranking was whether it would replace PMF. This issue appears clearly settled in favor of the charter board’s quality school reports simply because the OSSE STAR report does not include all schools. Excluded are charters that have only early childhood education programs like AppleTree PCS. It also does not measure schools at the other end of the spectrum such as those that focus on the teaching of adult students. Alternative programs are also left out.
When you look at charters that offer traditional grades to a general population of students, the picture becomes murky for STAR in relation to the PMF. For example, going down the list of Tier 1 PMF charters, these schools sometimes received a five, such as Washington Yu Ying PCS or Washington Leadership Academy PCS. But they can also earn a three, as seen with Lee Montessori PCS and KIPP DC College Preparatory Academy PCS. Most of the top tier charter schools get a four. If I were a parent I would be shy about sending my child to a place that only received a three. In addition, while I might favor a school labeled as a five, there are only a few that measured this high.
Where the PMF and STAR report more closely correlate is in relation to the lower performing schools. Out of the six of seven Tier 3 charters that receive a STAR number, four receive a one ranking on STAR with two others getting a two. The message to parents is that if it is academic quality that most interests you in a school, look for a number higher than two.
One weakness of the STAR grading system is that it includes five levels while the PMF only has three. This makes the PMF easier to understand for the general public. Although some have expressed serious problems with the charter’s board’s tiering, especially when it comes to schools with a large population of at-risk students, it looks like this is the best that we have at this moment in time.