Washington Charter School Students See Big Gains on State Math Tests
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Updated, October 10th.
In the latest state tests conducted in Washington state, the percentage of charter school students who scored proficient in math increased by almost 15 points compared to the tests administered during the 2020-2021 school year. This improvement is significant considering the decline in math scores during the pandemic.
The Washington State Charter Schools Association celebrated these gains following the release of the latest Smarter Balanced standardized test results in September. The association, which has 18 charter school members serving approximately 5,000 students, primarily caters to children from low-income families and children of color.
Rekha Bhatt, the association’s co-president of innovative schools, highlighted the schools’ focus on practices like differentiation to aid math recovery. Differentiation involves tailoring lessons to students’ individual abilities. Bhatt also mentioned targeted interventions for students in need and a reliance on data-driven instruction. Furthermore, the association encourages students to take ownership of their academic progress and actively work towards improvement.
Although less than half of all charter school students achieved proficiency in math, 39.1% reached that benchmark in the spring tests of 2023, compared to 24.2% in the fall of 2021. Statewide, students also demonstrated improvement in math, albeit not as significant, with the percentage of students scoring proficient increasing by 8.7 points between the 2020-2021 and 2022-2023 school years, rising from 30.4% to 39.1%.
These results reflect a statewide trend of students recovering from an 18.5-point drop in math scores between the 2018-2019 school year and the 2020-2021 school year. Prior to the pandemic, around 49% of students tested proficient in math, but this number decreased to 30.4% during the first year of remote learning and school closures.
Nationally, there has been concern over the decline in math scores following the pandemic. California, for example, reported a 6.35-point drop in its Smarter Balanced math scores between the 2018-2019 and 2021-2022 school years. Only 33.38% of students in California achieved proficiency or better in math, with even lower percentages among Black students, less than 16%.
Charter schools in Washington state serve a more diverse population compared to traditional public schools, with 62% of their students identifying as Black, Indigenous, or students of color, compared to roughly 51% statewide. Additionally, 56% of charter school students come from low-income households, while the statewide average is 50%. This diversity is further reflected in the teaching staff of charter schools, where 42% of teachers are people of color, compared to approximately 13% statewide. Having teachers who reflect students’ cultural and racial identities is believed to have a significant impact on student outcomes.
In Washington state, Smarter Balanced tests are administered annually to students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10. The most recent results also showed improvements among charter school students in English proficiency. In the 2020-2021 school year, only 46% of students reached proficiency in English, compared to 52.4% in the 2022-2023 school year. Statewide, 50.7% of students achieved proficiency in English in 2022-2023, a small increase of 3 percentage points from the 47.7% in 2020-2021.
"We are thrilled to see the academic gains our students have made over the past two years," said Rekha Bhatt from the Washington State Charter Schools Association.
Statewide, there was an 11.9-point decrease in English proficiency between the 2018-2019 and 2020-2021 school years, which was less severe than the nearly 20-point decline in math proficiency during the same period. National test scores from 20 states indicate a similar trend, with math scores showing a stronger recovery compared to English scores, which have been slower to improve.
In 2012, the voters in Washington state initially approved the establishment of charter schools. These schools are publicly funded but operated privately. However, their financing was questioned in terms of constitutionality, leading to a lengthy legal dispute. Finally, in 2018, the issue was resolved in favor of charter schools. While some of the state’s charters, such as Summit and Impact public schools, are part of larger networks, the majority are independently operated by smaller school leaders.
Under current state law, the growth of charter schools has been restricted to the number that existed in April 2021. Advocates of charter schools are pushing for a policy change that would allow for the opening of more schools. According to Meyers, this change is necessary and supported by charter advocates.
Furthermore, the Washington State Charter Schools Association and receive financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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