Jacksonville School District 117 says on its home page that it is “accepting written public commentary” about the 8 Points Charter School. There is much to say about the threat to close another school in our small town. The argument that Superintendent Steve Ptacek brought to the Board of Education in favor of closing 8 Points revolves around numbers, lots of numbers. Many are displayed on the 117 website.
Ptacek’s “Analysis of Academic Performance” uses test data for 2012-2014 to support the argument that 8 Points has not lived up to its goals. Red numbers color every box in the report’s first table, showing reading and math scores for grades 5 through 8 at 8 Points: did not achieve the goal. He wrote, “the performance of the Charter School on the 2012, 2013, and 2014 ISATs was unacceptable.”
The full data about ISAT scores at 8 Points and other Jacksonville schools reveal a more complex story. It’s true that in 2012 in both reading and math at every grade level, the proportion of students who met the ISAT standards was much lower at 8 Points than at Washington and Lincoln Elementary schools and at Turner Junior High. Those 5th through 7th grade students had been there just a few months. The ISAT scores for 2012, at the beginning of 8 Points’ short life, show the abilities of students from District 117 who chose to enter 8 Points.
8 Points Charter School was conceived and advertised as an alternative school environment for students who did not fit well into traditional public schools. 8 Points began with and continues to serve an untypical student population. Comparing the proportions of students at 8 Points who meet standards in any year with students at other Jacksonville schools tells you nothing more than that families with academic difficulties were much more likely to chose 8 Points.
In order to see how well 8 Points is doing with those students, we need to watch its performance over time and compare that to other local schools. Those results should guide our local discussions.
ISAT scores at 8 Points have gotten worse from 2012 to 2014. So have the scores in schools across Illinois. Comparisons within District 117 are the key story. In 5th grade reading and math, scores at 8 Points fell less than at Washington and Lincoln. In 6th grade reading and math, scores at 8 Points fell less than at Washington and Lincoln. In 7th grade reading and math, scores at 8 Points fell less than at Turner Junior High. In the 8th grade, there are only data for 2013-2014, when scores at 8 Points fell more than at Turner.
I have not mentioned science, also an ISAT test for 7th graders. The “Analysis” does not show those scores in its tables, perhaps because the science scores in 2014 at 8 Points were just as high as at Turner, even though the 8 Points students had begun at much lower levels in earlier years.
The “Analysis of Academic Performance” also compares Jacksonville schools to 8 other Illinois schools in Cahokia, Peoria, Springfield, and East St. Louis with “similar demographics”. The “Analysis” says that “the Charter School is not performing well.”
Again, different schools start at different places in 2012, depending on their student populations, so the only way to compare them is to compare the changes in score from 2012 to 2014. During that time, every school in the list showed a drop for every student category. The scores from 2012 to 2014 show 8 Points doing significantly better than most of these schools. In 5th grade math, 6th and 7th grade reading, 8 Points ranks in the middle of these schools. In 7th grade math, 8 Points is in 2nd place, and in 5th grade reading and 6th grade math, 8 Points has the best performance.
There are many more numbers in the multiple reports offered by the District 117 administration, involving complex models which may not be appropriate for such a small school. But the most significant numbers are those discussed above, the actual test scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.
There is more going on here than analyzing numbers. The District 117 home page proudly displays photographs of “Our Schools”. 8 Points Charter is not among them.
8 Points Charter is doing as well or better than other similar local schools and similar schools around the state. 8 Points is serving the most academically challenged student population in Jacksonville. It offers a longer school day and a longer school year, as well as more adults per classroom than any other school in the District. It emphasizes literacy and leadership.
I think a decision about 8 Points should revolve around numbers. Here’s the most important number. Within the larger environment of lower than average school performance here in District 117, an exciting, professionally staffed, innovative experiment in public education is taking place, directing its appeal especially to families with scholastic underachievement. 8 Points should get more than 5 years to achieve its promise.
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, December 8, 2015