In your October issue, a table presented figures to suggest that charter-managed Renaissance Schools recorded impressive gains in reading and math during the first year of the Renaissance initiative. In the weeks since, this table has been widely cited – from Education Week to the Huffington Post. We don't intend to contest the claim that the charter-managed Renaissance Schools are producing gains in student achievement; rather, our goal is to highlight that the way these data were presented raises more questions than it answers.
The table in the Notebook is incomplete in three ways.
First, a table with only two years of data does not provide historical context for the performance of the Renaissance charter schools before charter providers assumed leadership of these schools. To what degree do the reported increases continue or depart from historical trends? A display of data from multiple previous years would have provided readers a better understanding of how charter-managed Renaissance Schools are affecting student performance.
Secondly, the table provides only aggregate percentages of students who scored proficient or above on the PSSAs. There is no information on which grades were tested at which schools, nor does the table provide any information about individual grade-level performance on the PSSAs. We cannot tell whether PSSA score increases were spread across all grades, or concentrated in fewer grades. The table does not report on students who may have improved from "below basic" to "basic," leaving the question of whether this other group of students improved unanswered.
Finally, the Notebook table does not provide achievement data from other, comparable schools that could serve as important points of comparison.
The table provided important information, but by adhering to best practices of presenting quantitative data, it could have been far more instructive. The lack of information on how these schools have historically performed and how they compare to other schools makes it difficult to fully gauge the significance of these gains.
-Kate Shaw, executive director
Michael Norton and Eva Gold, principal investigators Research for Action
Research for Action has been commissioned by the Accountability Review Council to conduct an evaluation of Renaissance Schools.