The Walton Family Foundation offers financial support for the startup of public charter schools that demonstrate potential for improving student achievement in reading/language arts and math as measured by valid and reliable standardized tests. Schools must develop specific metrics and set annual targets for academic student performance, systems for measuring progress against those targets, and strategies for refining instruction to achieve those outcomes.
The foundation recommends that schools supplement standardized math and reading/language arts tests with other measures of performance, such as: passage rates on standardized tests in science, social studies, and other subject areas; yearly attendance and retention rates; high school exit exam passage rates and graduation rates; college admittance and completion rates; parental satisfaction survey results; and, school waiting list numbers.
In regard to tracking student academic achievement, schools must plan to evaluate student progress using at least three basic measures:
1. Student Achievement Level (Status);
2. Student Progress Over Time (Growth); and,
3. Comparisons of student achievement status and growth to benchmark schools and other norms.
Student Achievement Level (Status)
We expect grant recipients to set specific, rigorous standards of learning for students at all grade levels and to measure the proportion of students meeting and exceeding annual proficiency targets on state standardized reading and math exams. Schools should create plans to increase the percentage of students at each grade level achieving proficiency from year to year. Ideally, a school’s academic program would enable more than 90% of students within three years to obtain and maintain proficiency against grade-level standards as measured by state standardized reading and math tests.
The foundation recognizes that charter schools serving secondary grades often enroll students who are performing years below grade level proficiency targets. In these cases, students need an intensive academic experience to prepare them for postsecondary educational options. Secondary schools seeking our support should set targets relative to end-of-course and state high school exit exams (as applicable) and for college entrance exams, the SAT and ACT.
Student Progress Over Time (Growth)
The foundation expects that school grantees are able to demonstrate from year to year that students across all grades and subjects are improving. Schools should be able to demonstrate that students below proficient are moving to higher performance levels and that students who are already scoring proficient or advanced are maintaining that level of achievement on state standardized reading and math tests.
Schools will annually measure changes in the percent of students scoring at proficient or better on state standardized reading and math tests, as well as changes in the percent of students below proficient who are moving to higher performance levels. These metrics should be supplemented, where appropriate, with student progress measures from formative assessments that measure interim progress against annual targets (for example NWEA results). In addition, growth on nationally norm-referenced exams (such as the ITBS or ACT EXPLORE) should also be used to demonstrate student progress. It is expected that school and cohort growth measures will factor in student mobility and turnover rates. In states, such as Colorado or Indiana, that publicly report growth measures based on standardized tests, schools should set targets and annually report performance.
Comparisons of Student Achievement to Benchmark Schools and Other Norms
Foundation-supported schools, at a minimum, should strive to achieve proficiency rates on state standardized reading and math tests that are superior to neighboring and/or demographically similar schools. Schools should have plans that will enable students enrolled for two or more years to demonstrate absolute proficiency rates and changes in proficiency rates over time that are superior to benchmark schools. Schools should seek to outperform demographically similar schools on nationally norm-referenced exams as well. Examples include assessments like the SAT-10, Advanced Placement exams, and International Baccalaureate exams.
Performance Measures for Alternative Charter Schools
Foundation-supported alternative charter schools, like all other charter schools, should be dedicated to raising the academic achievement of all students as measured on standardized assessments. As these schools are educating different types of students, the same expectations may not be appropriate. Nevertheless, alternative charter schools should set appropriate targets and report on student achievement levels and growth on standardized tests. It is recommended that data from standardized formative assessments be considered. Other measures of attainment should be included, such as high school graduation rates, GED completion rates, vocational certificate program completion, and/or post-secondary matriculation rates. Schools should include targets for behavioral measures as well, such as truancy rates, post-discharge recidivism rates, and dropout rates (as appropriate). Finally, schools should consider inclusion of targets for measures regarding persistence, including, for example, average daily attendance rates and/or student course completion rates. In setting targets for all performance measures, schools should provide a rationale for the targets based on research and past performance of related programs.