A new Keystone Policy Center report found following the return to in-person learning, Colorado charter schools saw larger proportions of students meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations and higher academic growth than students who attend district-run schools.

“This was the second part of our larger report on how school districts and schools were doing this last year, as schools came back into session after the pandemic. We were very interested in the second report at looking at charter schools, which represent about 15% of kids in Colorado,” said Van Schoales, Keystone Policy Center senior policy director.

“Charter schools nationally, at least the early data so far suggests, that they did about the same or sometimes worse than district-managed schools. So we were surprised, actually, to find that charter schools, particularly schools that were serving many low-income students, did very well compared to district schools.”

The research revealed charter schools outperformed district-managed schools on the state school performance framework. Third to eighth grade charter school students outperformed their peers in district managed schools on both literacy and math tests, and charter school students also showed more academic growth.

“My hypothesis is, this probably had something to do with charter schools being able to pivot more quickly during the pandemic. Also, charters often have closer relationships with families,” Schoales said. But Schoales said both charter and district-run schools still have work to do.

“Schools across Colorado, and also across the country, are not doing very well in terms of getting most kids to the standards that we’ve set for them. So I do think that this study, along with a whole host of other studies, raises questions around: what are we doing in public education if, for example, only one in 10 students in Colorado in the eighth grade can reach standards in math? That’s a real problem, especially for low-income kids,” Schoales said.

Wyatt Academy, a charter school in Denver where the majority of students are from low-income families, also saw an increase in test scores. Means believes Wyatt students are seeing success because of the school’s ability to be flexible.

“Charter schools, in general, have that freedom and that adaptability and flexibility. At Wyatt, our focus automatically was on community,” Means said. “We can honestly say, through data and experience of being in schools, that our students did take a hit during the pandemic when it comes to their learning and education. But I can say here at Wyatt, we do work hard on closing the opportunity gap. And we have data that shows that we are closing it and faster than some traditional and other charter schools.”

“We’re proud to say that our community and our Wyatt family came together through the pandemic. We were able to show high achievement and growth in the number of students scoring grade level in math and reading… we are ranked number one in our neighborhood,” said Wyatt Academy Principal Melody Means.

Means said considering students’ needs outside of the classroom could be the key to improving test scores. “During the pandemic, we were very visible to our families if they needed help. If they needed food, we offered it and brought it to them, same for clothing,” Means said. Means said Wyatt’s nontraditional tactics have translated to conventional classroom success.

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