Charter schools make the grade

Test scores at local charter schools soared in the last statewide tests, while the majority of students in local public schools fell below the state standards in math and science.

At Gilroy Prep, a charter school, 83 percent of the students in third through seventh grades met state standards in English and 75 percent of them met them in math. At Hollister Prep, part of the same Navigator school chain, 90 percent of the students met standards in English and 75 percent met them in math.
Of Hispanic students at Gilroy Prep, 80 percent met or exceeded standards in English and 70 percent met or exceeded them in math.
By comparison, only 48 percent of Gilroy Unified School District students, including elementary, middle school and 11th graders, met or exceeded standards in English and 40 percent in math. The Gilroy numbers for Hispanics were significantly lower, with only 40 percent successful in English and 32 percent in math.
Statewide, 49 percent of public school students met English standards and 38 percent met them in math.
The results for the 60 students at the Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy were even greater, with 99 percent meeting standards in English and 95 percent in math. Those high school students study advanced courses at Gavilan College.
The low scores in the large, public schools prompted Glen Webb, Morgan Hill’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, to suspect that there were problems with the design of the tests, which he said “weren’t functioning properly” across the country.
However, the charter school results offer other evidence, even in the most challenging categories. At Gilroy Prep, 78 percent of economically disadvantaged students met or exceeded standards in English and 70 percent in math and of those with English as a second language, 72 percent met standards in English and 72 percent in math.
So why are the charter schools more successful?
“We have since our inception in 2011 gone to the top-performing schools across the state and taken bits and pieces from each school,” said Kirsten Carr, the director of community outreach for Navigator Schools.
“We’ve created our own educational model. We are able to have a little bit of creativity in the curriculum, basing it on common core and on things we have found that stimulate student success. We also focus on coaching teachers. Every staff member is coached weekly. Creating phenomenal teachers will create phenomenal students.”
Students are assessed weekly and teachers meet to examine the strengths and weaknesses of each student and figure ways to help them.
The class size of 30 is larger than Gilroy’s average of 28, although the school on IOOF street is significantly smaller than any in the Gilroy district. There are only 60 students in each grade and the students split time between full classrooms and smaller groups.
Students get into the school by lottery with preferences for those who have siblings that have already attended. There are no academic standards or financial requirements to get in. Selection is random.
Carr said the fact that Navigators scores didn’t improve in math suggested that perhaps there was something to the rigor of the tests, which have only been in place for three years. She said the math scores didn’t grow as much as the schools had hoped, though were still far ahead of state standards.
The charter has worked with teachers at other school to share methods, including Rod Kelley Elementary School, which had 62 percent of its students reach the highest scores in English and 61 percent in math.
Gilroy’s two high schools showed varying results. At Christopher High 67 percent of the students met or exceeded standards in English and 32 percent in math. At Gilroy High 58 percent met or exceeded in English and 28 percent in math.

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