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Feds Say No to Different Rating System for Pa. Charters

The U.S. Department of Education has rejected a change to the way that Pennsylvania evaluates charter schools, saying that they have to be evaluated in the same way as traditional public schools, the Associated Press reported Nov. 26.

In October, when I wrote about the collapse of proposed changes to the Keystone State's charter school law, one of the issues I touched on briefly was the fact that Pennsylvania had released ratings for charter schools in September that evaluated them like entire districts, not individual schools. This meant that a charter school had only to meet adequate yearly progress (the yardstick under the No Child Left Behind Act) for one of three grade spans, whereas traditional schools have to meet AYP in each grade level. This boosted the ratings of charter schools, much to the annoyance of groups like the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

However, federal officials subsequently told the Pennsylvania department that Washington needed to review the rating system for charters before it could be approved.

A spokesman for Pennsylvania's department, Tim Eller, told me last month that he was confident the charter evaluation system would be approved by the federal department. But that confidence was misplaced: In a letter to the Pennsylvania department, U.S. Assistant Education Secretary Deborah Delisle said that charters in the future must be evaluated using the calculation for individual schools, in order to comply with regulations.although they also can also be rated like districts. In her letter, she noted that while using the district-level method for charters, 59 percent of charters met AYP in the 2011-12 school year. But using the school-level accountability method meant only 37 percent of charters them met AYP.

When state legislators take another crack at overhauling Pennsylvania's relatively old charter law this year, it will be interesting to see how much the statistic of charters' performance gets tossed around during the debate. (By comparison, half of traditional public schools met AYP.) It looks like the lower, less-impressive statistic for charters will now get significantly more attention.

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