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Chicago Charter Schools Return Erratic State Test Results

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After being touted as the solution to low-performing Chicago public schools, state achievement test data released Wednesday showed erratic student performance at Chicago's charter schools, even between schools within the same franchise.

Chicago was ranked second highest nationally on the Brown Center on Education Policy's Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI), which scores large school districts based on 13 categories of policy and practice, including availability of alternative education options and implementation of effective competition systems.

But state achievement test data, released for the first time in more than a decade, suggests that alternative options--particularly publicly-funded charter schools, which have more autonomy to develop curricula and have established a growing presence in Chicago education--don't consistently outperform public schools when it comes to standardized tests.

Only one of nine charter franchises averaged a higher percentage of students who passed the ISAT/PSAE than the districtwide public school average, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. The overall passing rate at two multi-site school operators lagged behind the CPS average at every site. (See the full data set at the Sun-Times.)

Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS), which with 11 elementary campuses and four high schools runs the largest charter operation in the city, produced widely varied results. Their ISAT performances averaged from 18 percent below the CPS average to 19 percent above in their elementary schools, and from 10 percent below to 10 percent above on the PSAE across their high schools.

The scores could foreshadow additional changes within the charter school system, which is already facing major adjustments. Last week, CPS issued a release announcing that 36 charters had applied for a grant to extend their school days by 90 minutes starting in January.

New Schools Chief Executive Phyllis Lockett told the Chicago Tribune that the city has been consistently pruning low-performing charter schools. Christine Poindexter-Harris, chief data analyst at CICS, suggested that this data could drive more sweeping closures or alterations.

"That's a very serious thing on our end; it's definitely not something that's taken lightly," Poindexter-Harris told the Tribune. "But it's really done with the thought that if you can't provide the best education for our students then we need to find someone who can."

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