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Florida's Charters Outperform Regular Schools on FCAT

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Students in charter schools in Florida outperform their peers in regular public schools on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT), and charter schools in the state also have smaller achievement gaps between white students and minorities than regular public schools, says a new report released by the Florida Department of Education.

The report, which is required under Florida law, compared students' test scores on the FCAT and the Algebra end of course exam from the 2011-12 school year to determine the results. That year, 518 charter schools served 183,000 students in the state. The report analyzed the raw data from over 3 million test scores. It did not control for differences in demographics, academic progress, or any other factors when comparing charter school performance with regular schools. Only data from students who stayed in school for an entire year was used.

More charter school students scored proficient on the FCAT reading, math, and science exams than regular public school students, and more charter school students scored higher on their Algebra I end of course exam than regular public school students.

Some discrepancies occurred when those numbers were broken down by other factors, such as free-and-reduced-price lunch status, demographics, and other factors, but most were consistent with the study's overall findings.

For instance, in science, at the elementary school level, students overall in both charters and regular public schools performed virtually the same on the FCAT (51.9 percent of charter school students reached proficiency compared to 51.8 percent of regular school students), but those numbers become more nuanced when broken down by demographics. About 61 percent of white elementary school charter students reached proficiency compared to 64 percent of white regular elementary school students.

That gap does not persist through middle school, though, where charter school students began to outperform their regular public school peers in science (52.5 percent of middle charter school students reached proficiency compared to 47.4 percent of regular middle school students who reached proficiency.)

The report was conducted by Florida's Office of Independent Education and Parental Choice, and the Bureau of Evaluation and Reporting in the Division of Accountability, Research, and Measurement.

Charter schools also experienced a smaller achievement gap between both African-American and Hispanic students compared to white students than regular public schools in reading, math, and science and slightly outpaced regular public school peers in math and reading when comparing the learning gains students experienced throughout the year.

The report comes as a bill that would add more restrictions to closed charter schools, require charter schools to release some spending information to the public, and allow charter schools to take over empty district facilities is working its way through the legislature. So far, the bill has passed the House education committee's choice and innovation subcommittee. StateImpact Florida, a collaboration between NPR and local public media, reports that the bill is likely to pass the Republican-controlled legislature this year. A list of amendments to the proposed bill can also be found online.

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