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Pa. Clashes With Feds Over Charter Evaluations

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by guest blogger Mike Bock

Though the U.S. Department of Education criticized the Pennsylvania Department of Education for making changes on how charter schools are evaluated without federal approval, an official decision by the federal government will not be made for at least a few weeks, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The U.S. Education Department's criticism stems from Pennsylvania's attempt to change rules on how charter schools are evaluated. According to the No Child Left Behind Act, states that want to adjust how they compute academic progress need to get approval from the federal agency. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

"In an e-mail last week, a U.S. Education Department official said: "The [Pennsylvania Department of Education] does not have the authority to apply this methodology... until the federal department has had an opportunity to review and approve its expanded application." The official said the federal department was still reviewing the request."

Under the proposed rules, the average test scores for charter schools will be grouped by grade levels to meet state benchmarks (which is how districts are evaluated,) rather than the scores of all tested students (like individual public schools do.)

Opponents of the new changes said this measure would artificially inflate the annual yearly progress, or AYP, for charters. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association released a statement arguing that 44 of the 77 charter schools that the Pennsylvania Department of Education classified as having met the state standards for 2011-12 would have fallen short if held to the same performance markers that public schools had to meet.

But in a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Education, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis said the change was made because charter schools are essentially administrated in the same way as districts, and the changes would not hold charters less accountable.

"The grade-spans method used to determine a school districts AYP since 2005 is the same exact method that was put in place this year for charter schools. It is the same exact method. There is no difference," said department spokesman Tim Eller in an e-mail.

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