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Charters’ test scores miss mark

Ball State official says data show lack of improvement

– At a recent parent meeting for Imagine MASTer Academy, one big question that school officials said was difficult to answer was, “Why?”

Parents posed the question to MASTer Academy principal Amanda Hernandez, who said the school doesn’t have many answers related to Ball State University’s decision to not renew the school’s charter. The university hasn’t been forthcoming, Hernandez said.

Ball State holds MASTer Academy’s charter along with two other Allen County charter schools: Timothy L. Johnson Academy and Imagine Schools on Broadway. The university will allow all three schools’ charters to expire on June 30.

But Ball State officials have stressed that schools shouldn’t be surprised as they were given ample time and opportunity to review performance data that was used in making the decision.

Ball State hasn’t released the reports related to the charter renewal process. But in a recent interview, Bob Marra, director of the university’s Office of Charter Schools, provided The Journal Gazette with additional details behind the decision regarding the Fort Wayne charter schools.

Timothy L. Johnson

Johnson Academy opened on the city’s southeast side in 2002. For years, the school has struggled to get half its students to pass standardized achievement tests, according to scores since 2006 from the state Department of Education website. Ball State has never granted the school a full five-year renewal of its charter but granted three separate extensions.

Johnson Academy board president Mike Nickleson said the school has struggled because it accepts the most challenging students, and it takes longer for these students to raise their test scores. He said the school was established for that exact reason. He questioned the need for charter schools if they’re not looking to serve students who aren’t getting their needs met elsewhere.

“We’re not looking to try to take the top 10 percent from public schools,” he said. “We’re trying to take the bottom 10 percent and turn them into good students.”

But Marra said the school showed “insufficient improvement” in its academic performance, with just 41 percent of its students passing both the English/language arts and math portions of the ISTEP+ standardized test last year. He said that in the school’s history, it achieved adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind only twice.

The school ranked last in achievement among 44 Fort Wayne Community Schools and last of 12 in East Allen County Schools, Marra said. The ranking is based on ISTEP+ passage rates for schools with students in grades 3-8 that are provided by the state Department of Education, he said.

Imagine Schools

The data of two Imagine Schools Inc. charters in Fort Wayne also showed little progress toward higher performance standards.

Imagine MASTer Academy, at 2000 N. Wells St., opened in 2007, and in that year, 49.9 percent of students passed both portions of the ISTEP+ test. Four years later, the school has increased that passage rate only to 51.7 percent.

Students at the school also take a test through the Northwest Evaluation Association to measure progress and have recently shown a downward trend in growth, Marra said. The school ranks 41st among 45 schools in the surrounding area.

A year after MASTer Academy opened, Imagine Schools on Broadway opened. The school’s ISTEP+ passage rate was just 36.7 percent last year, ranking last among 45 schools in the surrounding area.

Marra said the school also showed a 10 percent drop in progress last year under the NWEA testing.

In the months leading up to Ball State’s decision, Imagine Schools officials said they had provided the university with action plans for improvement.

Imagine regional director Rachel Cirullo said the schools were surprised to learn they wouldn’t be given an extension of their charters with performance conditions for more opportunity to improve.

“We’ve made a lot of changes this year, and we’ve seen promising data with substantial gains,” she said.

Marra said low academic achievement and little progress toward improvement were the main reasons for the decision affecting the Fort Wayne charter schools. Because the decision was data-driven and the process has been in the works for about two years, Marra said the schools shouldn’t be surprised by the move.

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