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ISBE’s first charter campus data reports show wide range of scores

Amandla Charter School students work together in a classroom. | Provided photo

For the first time on Illinois’ public school report cards, officials have released detailed data for each of the city’s 130-plus charter schools along with the rest of the state’s public schools.

The inclusion of all the charters simplifies how parents, school staffers and taxpayers can check out a wider range of details about students, teachers and financials not readily available on Chicago Public Schools’ website. The Daily Herald has compiled its own School Checker database available here.

The extra level of transparency by the Illinois State Board of Education, which must publish schools data every Oct. 31, matters more than ever now that privately managed charter schools accounted for one in five public schools — 128 of 636 — in Chicago during the 2016-17 school year. ISBE also included data for six charter schools educating about 2,200 Chicago kids overseen by the Illinois State Charter Commission, completely separate from CPS.

Previously, ISBE lumped the oldest, largest charter schools’ data by network. ISBE spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said the state agency and Chicago schools finally found a way, agreeing “that the change would positively increase accountability and transparency.”

“It presents a more nuanced picture which is good,” said Andrew Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “I’m glad we’re finally seeing apples-to-apples campus-based reporting, because if you roll up a 10-schools network into a single network grade, it obscures differences in the campuses that are significant.”

The Noble Network of Charter Schools had 12,000 students at 17 campuses, 7,800 students attended 15 Acero Schools — formerly known as UNO Network Charter Schools — and about 8,500 students attended 14 Chicago International Charter Schools.

Noble’s SAT scores ranged from 1073 for combined English and math at its UIC College Prep campus, alongside the city’s top open-enrollment schools, down to a 910 at DRW College Prep.

Acero’s three high schools ranged from 915 at its Victoria Soto campus to 876 at the De La Cruz campus. At its grade schools, more than 34 percent of kids tested at its Zizumbo campus could do grade-level reading and math but only 12 percent could at Octavio Paz and Roberto Clemente schools.

CICS had about 34 percent of its kids tested meeting or exceeding state standards at its Avalon/South Shore and Irving Park campuses. But at the Lloyd-Bond campus, only 9 percent of students hit that benchmark.

CPS’ average score for the first year Illinois students took the SAT instead of the ACT was 956 — or 483.7 in English and 472.5 in math. The state averaged 1015 and nationally, juniors scored an average 1010. CPS says its students need a 540 each in English and math to take college courses as a high schooler. Its highest scores were 1375, reported at the elite Walter Payton College Prep.

For the PARCC test — which Illinois each spring gives to third- through eighth-graders and plans to continue indefinitely, State Superintendent Tony Smith said Monday — 26.1 percent of CPS students overall could do grade level work, barely up from 25.4 percent last year. Statewide that percentage is 34.1 percent, up from 33.4 percent reported a year ago.

At the schools overseen by the state commission, enrollment dropped about 8 percent from the year before, with Chicago Lighthouse Charter School losing more than half its kids.

Amandla Charter School’s new building couldn’t fit its fifth grade, principal and CEO Jennifer Kirmes said. Some families also wouldn’t travel.

Academics remain a problem for all three schools CPS wanted to close but the commission reopened with academic conditions. Amandla and Lighthouse both had multiple grades where no children did grade level work on PARCC. CPS also saw this problem in several elementary school classes.

The zeroes were in Amandla’s earliest grades for its newest students tested in April. Kirmes said the school reorganized in October.

“It’s just good, deliberate, data-informed teaching, but we’re being much more structured and intentional about it now,” she said. “Unfortunately, the changes we are in the process of making do not appear to have moved the scores as much as we would have liked,” she said. SAT scores averaged 823; graduates have gone on to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University and The University of Michigan.

“I know that the commission has very high standards for its schools, including Amandla,” she said, “but I am hopeful that they will take a comprehensive look and consider all the good we are doing that isn’t measured on tests, but can be measured in other ways [like] graduation rates and college enrollment rates.”

For weeks, CPS officials have touted their academic progress across a variety of measures, but have refused repeated requests for an interview about ISBE’s data. Noble and ACERO couldn’t schedule anyone to comment on Tuesday. Lighthouse didn’t return messages seeking comment.

This story includes information that has been corrected from Wednesday’s print edition of the Sun-Times.