Charter Schools Post Higher Test Scores, Largely in Math

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New York City charters schools once again performed better than the citywide average on this year's state exams. But that's largely because of the gains in math.

Forty-five percent of charter students passed the English test, about the same as the rest of the city. But 68 percent were proficient in math - far higher than the citywide average of 57 percent.

Charters are privately managed and they often have a longer school day. In many cases, students also attend weekend and summer classes.

Peter Murphy, director of policy and communications of the New York Charter Schools Association, said it was harder to improve on the English Language Arts exam because the state added more essay questions. "The larger improvement in math compared to English reflects at least in part that the ELA standards are more of a challenge and that the assessment has evolved," he stated. 

Both the math and reading tests have gotten much tougher to pass since the state raised the standards two years ago. But the discrepancies are interesting when looking at several charters schools in particular:

-At Brooklyn's Beginning with Children school, elementary and middle grade math scores went up 7 points but reading scores fell about 2.5 points, with less than 37 percent of students deemed proficient. Two years ago, before the state changed its standards, almost 84 percent of the school's students were proficient in math and 73 percent were passing in English.

-At the KIPP AMP Charter in Crown Heights, 62.6 percent of students were proficient in math compared to 46 percent in 2010. But only 28.8 percent of students were proficient on the English Language Arts exam this year compared to 33.7 percent in 2010. In 2009, almost 78 percent were proficient in ELA.

-At the New Heights Academy in Washington Heights, almost 42 percent of students were proficient in math in 2010, and 62 percent in 2011. The figure was was 77 percent in 2009. But English scores have been tougher to raise at this mostly Hispanic school. Just about 21 percent of students were proficient on the ELA exam in both 2010 and 2011, compared to 62.8 percent in 2009.

-At the Hellenic Classical Charter in Brooklyn, a K-8 school, 90 percent of seventh graders were proficient math in 2011. That's almost triple the percentage since last year, when only 32 percent of of 7th graders were proficient in math. In 2009, the first year the school tested 7th graders, almost 89 percent were proficient. The number of 7th graders has ranged between 27 in 2009 and 21 in 2011.

Murphy, of the Charter Schools Association, notes that "big year-to-year changes may be unusual and eye-catching, but not impossible if you have a small sample and a new instructor(s) in the school, combined with a different cut-score or test from the state."