On Tuesday, December 6, the DC Public Charter School board released the results of its new Performance Management Framework. Twenty-two of the District’s 71 charter school campuses eligible for a ranking earned a spot in the top tier, 34 were in the second tier, and 15 were in the bottom, third tier. Tier III schools with a score below 20 points are candidates to have their charters revoked. This year, four campuses meet this criteria, and three charters are subject to revocation. Though the PMF doesn’t address every issue related to charter school accountability, it is an important and welcome step in the right direction.
The weights of each of the four PMF score components differ for elementary, middle, and high schools based on applicable measures. Student growth is weighted more in elementary and middle schools and is measured using the DC-CAS reading and math exams, based on median growth percentiles. (Here’s a wonky primer on Colorado’s median growth percentiles model, which ES wrote about here. Basically, the median growth percentile [MGP] is a summary statistic representing whether the typical student at a school grew at a faster or slower pace than her peers, given her starting point. For example, EL Haynes PCS received an MGP of about 67 on the DC-CAS math. This means that half of EL Haynes students grew above the 67th percentile on that exam.) Raw student achievement is based on performance on the DC-CAS reading and math and AP/IB exams. The PMF also evaluates “gateway” indicators that predict future performance, such as third-grade reading proficiency, eighth-grade math proficiency, PSAT and SAT performance, graduation rates, and college acceptance rates; and the “leading” indicators of attendance, re-enrollment in the school, and credits earned in ninth grade.
The PMF has had a long road to implementation. Development began in 2008, it was piloted in 2009, and full roll-out was postponed until this year. The lengthiness of the process is understandable. There are a lot of moving parts, and one wants to make sure they’re measured and weighted appropriately, that there is buy-in from stakeholders, and that the community – especially parents – can understand and access the rankings.
Forty percent of students in DC attend charter schools. That makes for a robust school choice market, and so some uniform measure of performance is necessary to make sure that charter schools are held accountable. But the balance between ensuring compliance and enabling autonomy is difficult to strike. To reconcile these dual, conflicting missions, PCSB has rewarded Tier I and II schools with exemptions from yearly school visits to audit their operations and practices.
The PMF raises other accountability and choice issues that don’t exactly have easy answers:
- How to measure the effectiveness of early childhood and special schools: These programs are evaluated on individual accountability plans and self-reported data on student growth and achievement rather than the PMF. These evaluations still face the comparability issue that the PMF was developed to address: parents of prospective students at these schools might want to be able to see exactly how schools stack up against each other using common metrics.
- Assessing finances and governance: The PMF originally included measures for school finances and governance, but they were removed after stakeholder input. Poor finances and governance were the reasons for three-fifths of all charter schools closures between 2004 and 2009 in the District. In 2011, both SAIL PCS and Thea Bowman PCS were closed for financial reasons. Finances and governance are now part of the charter board’s compliance framework, rather than its ranking system.
- Closing charters with multiple campuses: Singling out bottom-scoring campuses for charter revocation rightly strikes a tough tone with charter schools that don’t hold up their end of the bargain. But decisions to revoke a whole charter based on one campus may require some nuance. For example: both of Options PCS’s campuses and both of Maya Angelou PCS’s campuses are in Tier III and therefore likely candidates to be shut down. Yet Community Academy had the ninth-best and the third worst elementary/middle schools in the city (with one other tier III school and two tier II schools). If the PCSB chooses to revoke Community Academy’s charter, then its higher performing tier I and II campuses will also have to close. The PCSB does give schools the option to voluntarily close the low-performing campus before the charter revocation process is begun, but the PMF won’t always bring clarity to the decision to revoke a charter
- Comparisons with public schools: By including DCPS students’ scores in the calculation of the median growth profile, charter schools are compared to their peers across the city. But missing from the PMF report cards – and what might be useful for families – are the scores of other schools serving the same grades within a defined radius of the school. To make the PDR useful for both public accountability and for providing families with useful information, the PCSB will have to work with The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and DCPS. OSSE – the agency created in the wake of mayoral control to set and coordinate standards and accountability measures for all public schools in the District – had a hand in developing the PMF, and DCPS is also using median growth percentiles to rank its schools, so the groundwork for this type of cooperation has been laid. But in a system where nearly half of DC students attend charter schools, families shouldn’t have to navigate multiple websites and report formats to find out about the options available to them.
Written by Education Sector policy intern Scott Baumgartner