Thursday, November 18, 2010

Charter School Accountability

Like all public schools, charter schools in Colorado are accountable through the same state accountability system. Across the state, schools are creating their first Unified Improvement Plan (UIP) based on the data in their School Performance Framework. Much more detail is on the SchoolView website.

The UIP process involves senior leadership at the school. This includes the principal, curriculum director, lead teachers, deans and/or others deemed vital to the discussion. The first step is to take a critical look at what the school's data shows. This in-depth examination goes beyond CSAP or ACT data. Schools are encouraged to collect parent satisfaction data, volunteer hours, staff surveys and any other data that provides an important piece in examining how the school can improve. Every school's data story is different.

Then the leadership team examines why the data says what it does. This does NOT include any "kid reasons" such as high poverty or lack of parental support. This is all about what are the adult influences on student academic achievement. The state process calls this the "root cause analysis."

The strategies decided on by the team are directly tied to the root cause. The question is, "How can adults improve the situation in order to improve academic achievement?"

UIPs for all public schools receiving either a Turnaround or Priority Improvement Accreditation rating must be completed using the state's UIP template. For all other schools this year, the UIP template is optional, but highly encouraged. These plans must all be submitted, via the school district, to the state by January 15, 2011. Some districts already had their schools submit UIPs and others are due in December. This allows the school district to review the plans before they're submitted to the state in January.

Many federal and state programs have agreed that the UIP will serve a wide range of purposes, thereby eliminating the need for schools or districts to write multiple plans. The UIP suffices for Title I, School Improvement, Title IID, and Accreditation.

Several of the charter schools have reported that the UIP process has been extremely helpful for their school. One even called it a great bonding experience for their staff as they all worked together to analyze the data and create strategies for improvement.

Other charter schools have reported a severe lack of communication with their district and haven't received their SPF in a timely manner and have had very short notice for UIP deadlines. Further, because the public schools in Turnaround begin a 5-year path to closure or transformation if they don't improve, these UIPs are very high stakes! This is the first year the state has used this new accountability system and many of the kinks in the system are being worked out during the process. Undoubtedly, the entire process will be better next year. In the meantime, there are several charter schools concerned about expectations for them as they begin this journey.

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