Charter school group calls for closure of West Sacramento school

12/19/2013 11:53 AM

12/19/2013 10:48 PM

The California Charter Schools Association called Thursday for the closure of a West Sacramento charter school that is run by UC Davis, Sacramento City College and the Washington Unified School District.

West Sacramento Early College Prep, which served 119 students last school year, is among the worst-performing campuses in the state based on standardized tests.

While the statewide organization is a champion of charter schools, it believes that calling for the closure of struggling programs demonstrates that charter schools are willing to be held accountable, said CCSA President Jed Wallace.

“It’s obviously unusual for a membership organization of our kind to be so hard-edged, so assertive about quality along these lines,” he said. “The Achilles’ heel of the charter community is that there are too many low-performing schools.”

The West Sacramento school is one of six charters that CCSA has identified; the others are in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Rosa, Antioch and Delano.

West Sacramento Early College Prep shouldn’t be on the “hit list,” said Harold Levine, the school’s board president and dean of the University of California, Davis, School of Education.

“I think the school is doing a great job,” he said. “I think we are doing what the state of California is asking us to do: develop college-ready kids.”

He points to the 32 students – 100 percent of the senior class – who graduated last school year.

The school serves students in sixth through 12th grade in an alternative model that has classrooms with students of different ages, and a large number come from impoverished families.

Many are emotionally troubled, according to Levine. He said most arrive a grade level or two behind and “it takes time to get them back.”

Since the school opened in 2007, its Academic Performance Index score has lagged far below state standards, ranging from 685 in 2008 to 556 in 2010. The school scored 611 in the 2012-13 school year. On a scale of 200 to 1,000, the statewide API benchmark is 800.

West Sacramento Early College Prep ranks among the bottom 15 schools in the four-county region based on API scores, with only a handful of charters with worse scores.

School officials attribute the drop last school year to an influx of new students, the school’s small sample size and the large number of students who opted to take the biology and chemistry tests and scored poorly.

Levine says students at the school don’t fare well on the state’s standardized tests, known as STAR tests, because they aren’t aligned to “the way we want them to think.” He said the school adopted project-based learning in 2008 that is more closely aligned with the new Common Core State Standards curriculum that California students will begin to be tested for in 2014.

The dean noted that California students are no longer taking STAR tests. He questioned why the charter association is using an “outmoded” measure to decide if a school is performing well academically.

“If anything, the CCSA should look to us and work with us to see what useful reforms can come to California,” Levine said.

In 2011, the West Sacramento school was included on CCSA’s target list with four others in the Sacramento region, out of 10 statewide, that didn’t meet the minimum academic measures set by the association. The organization has no power to revoke a charter, so it asked the agencies that govern the schools – usually a district or county board of education – to discontinue the low-performing programs.

Since then, eight of the 10 schools identified that year have closed or improved, said Elizabeth Robitaille, senior vice president of achievement and performance management at CCSA. “West Sacramento was one of only two that had been renewed and not improved,” she said.

In January 2012, the Washington Unified School District renewed the charter for West Sacramento Early College Prep through 2017 after parents, students and teachers packed the district board room to support the school. The renewal came with strings attached, as the board required that the school increase its overall API score by 40 points over two test periods. Scores dropped another 35 points last year instead.

“We don’t see how it is possible to make an argument that the school made progress,” Wallace said.

Levine said under the district agreement, the school was not required to improve if the state fundamentally changed its accountability system.

“We were forced to sign it,” he said. “If we didn’t, we would have been dissolved.”

Washington Unified officials referred questions to Levine.

In order for schools to meet CSAA criteria for renewal, they must either have earned an API score of more than 744 in 2012-13; have had a three-year cumulative API growth of at least 50 points; or performed as well as or better than similar schools for at least two of the previous three years.

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