Nevada charter schools are higher rated than district schools, but…
Charter schools still lag in enrollment of low-income students, English language learners and special education students — demographics known to need additional resources to achieve the measures emphasized by the state’s ratings system. (Getty Images)
One-third of charter schools overseen by the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority were rated 5-star schools by the state, significantly higher than the overall rate by nearly all traditional school districts.
But state charter schools still lag in enrollment of low-income students, English language learners and special education students — demographics known to need additional resources to achieve the measures emphasized by the state’s ratings system.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of SPCSA schools were rated 3-stars or higher by the Nevada State Performance Framework (NSPF) rating system, which ranks public schools on a 5-star scale. Only Eureka County School District, a tiny rural district with only four schools, had a higher percentage, with three of their four schools rated 3-stars or higher.
Statewide, 45% of public schools were rated 3-stars or higher.
Clark County School District had 39% of its schools receive 3-stars or higher. Washoe County School District, the state’s other urban public school district, had 42%.
This year’s batch of ratings are the first given since the 2018-19 academic year. The U.S. Department of Education waived mandatory testing and school ranking requirements during the covid pandemic. Nevada, like most other states, saw an overall dip compared to pre-pandemic.
Pre-pandemic, 14.8% of all public schools in Nevada achieved 5-stars. That percentage is now 9.8%.
"It is clear Nevada’s students are still recovering from interrupted learning due to the pandemic, as are students across the country," read a statement from the Nevada Department of Education when the NSPF results were announced.
In addition to the NSPF, the SPCSA rates schools using an Academic Performance Framework. That framework uses NSPF data to compare charter schools to the traditional district and individual district schools where their students would likely be enrolled if they weren't at the charter school.
According to a presentation provided to the SPCSA board, only a quarter of charter schools -- 33 of 124 -- enrolled economically disadvantaged students at the same or higher rate than their comparable traditional school district. Students are considered a part of this student population if they qualify for free or reduced lunch (FRL), a federal program based on family income levels.
Students who have some level of disability requiring accommodations through an individualized education plan (IEP) were similarly underrepresented in the charter schools. Only 25% of SPCSA schools enrolled these students at the same or higher rates than comparable school districts.
English Language Learner (ELL) student enrollment within state charters was even lower. Only 17% -- 23 of 134 -- charter schools had ELL enrollment at or higher than the comparable school district.
Those rates impact overall rankings, say public school advocates. FRL, IEP and ELL students have lower proficiency rates on standardized tests and lower participation in areas (like obtaining advanced degrees in high school) that are emphasized in the NSPF ratings.
According to statewide testing data compiled by the Nevada Department of Education for the state Board of Education, students with IEPs had 10% math proficiency, ELL students had 9.8% math proficiency, and FRL students had 18.8% math proficiency -- compared to 29.8% of all students.
Charter schools also don’t have the same disciplinary issues, says Chris Daly of the Nevada State Education Association, which has been critical of both publicly funded privately managed charter schools and the state’s overreliance on standardized testing data as a measure of success.
“(Charter schools) can just expel students with major disciplinary issues,” he said. “(Those students) will just end up back in traditional public school and the process (to expel) there is lengthy.”
Daly noted that state charter schools deal with a lower chronic absenteeism rate -- 23% compared to the statewide rate of 35%. Students are labeled chronically absent if they miss 10% or more of school days.
“For various reasons, charters have a different mix of students,” he said. “If you correct for that mix, I assume you get relatively even performance. Some would argue that traditional districts even outperform charters.”
He added, “Sure, they outperformed but they have a built-in advantage.”
The SPCSA has made efforts to make charter school enrollment more reflective of the total state population. New charter schools are approved using a "needs assessment” that requires them to address underserved communities, and diverse schools can earn bonus points in the SPSCA rating system for increasing enrollment in those key demographic areas.
But charter authority staff have warned it may be a slow-moving change because of student attrition rates at existing schools, as well as other barriers, like the lack of provided transportation to many charters.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.