Harlem Link Charter School

New York

Charter school principal: Enrollment policies can skew scores

Two schools whose students have identical test scores would seem to perform differently if they have different enrollment practices, according to a chart produced by a city charter school leader. It's not only the teachers union that is arguing that charter schools' enrollment practices can influence their apparent test performance. Unlike district schools, charter schools can choose whether to replace students who leave. Charter schools that do not practice "backfill" can end up posting scores that make it look like their performance is better — or worse — than it really is, argues the founding principal of Harlem Link Charter School, Steven Evangelista. In the Community section, Evangelista explains that when schools opt not to fill empty seats, "survivorship bias" skews test scores toward the results of students who remain enrolled. The bias renders test scores meaningless, even dangerous, if the scores are not presented alongside context about a school's enrollment practices, he writes: Strong schools take the time required to plan, assess, and tweak new initiatives until they become standard operating procedures. The lack of information provided alongside scores obscures this type of growth, creating perverse incentives for schools to “push out” students who are low performers and to “quick fix” by whittling down large original cohorts to smaller groups of survivors, uncompromised by new admittees. Evangelista says Harlem Link replaces students who depart, knowing that test scores could be adversely affected, in order to keep its budget stable and fulfill its mission of serving needy students. Last year, he writes, the school got lucky: The students who left were, on average, lower-performing than the students who left the previous year, so the appearance of large test school gains was easy to come by. It's a phenomenon that the teachers union has been particularly eager to put onto the agenda. After the city released elementary and middle school progress reports for last year on Monday, the union distributed a fact sheet noting high student attrition rates at several top-scoring charter schools. At South Bronx Classical Charter School, for example, between 20 and 40 percent of students that originally enrolled left before they were tested, and no new students replaced them, the union pointed out.
New York

State's plan to move ELA and math tests to May upsets schools

Beginning next year, state math and reading tests will be given in May, rather than two months apart in January and March, the state decided earlier this week. But beyond the barest outline of the schedule, details about the change are still unclear. Details up in the air include when exactly the tests will be given and how results will be tabulated in time for the start of the next school year. "Work is now underway to revise current examination calendars and scoring timelines," State Education Department deputy commissioner Johanna Duncan-Poitier said in materials released this week. The schedule change is throwing schools' plans for next year into question just as teachers are leaving for the summer. Steven Evangelista, the principal of Harlem Link Charter School, said his teachers have already planned their lessons for all of next year, and finding out that the state tests are moving is forcing them to revise the plans. "At this late date, when we have already mapped out our entire curriculum and assessment calendar for 2009-10, changing the date of high-stakes tests throws a monkey wrench in our plans," Evangelista said, adding that he wondered whether getting results over the summer would give teachers enough time to use the data to inform their instruction. He said he hadn't heard about the Regents' debate before this week. In the past, some schools have focused more heavily on reading before the state test in January, then shifted their focus to math in the months before the March math test. Some schools also plan different kinds of lessons for after the state tests, when the pressure to prepare students for the exams has lifted. Even schools that shun explicit test prep, including Evangelista's, say the schedule change could pose problems for them.