In Cleveland, the Menlo Park Academy charter school serves children in grades K-8 and has very strict admission requirements. Menlo Park restricts their enrollment to only the best and brightest — those students identified as being gifted. Not surprisingly, these students consistently highly on Ohio’s standardized tests year after year, making it appear as though the school is performing at a consistently high level. The most recent changes to Ohio’s school report cards, especially the new grade given to a school’s impact on gifted students, gives us a reason to look more closely at Menlo’s program.
Menlo Park’s website repeatedly sells the notion that they are the ultimate destination for gifted children — the place for parents to take their children to develop their gifted potential. And as we know, charter schools supposedly exist to provide a better academic opportunity than the local public school where these children would attend, so the advertising is very compelling.
As we mentioned before, Menlo Park students regularly put up high achievement test scores, not unusual for gifted populations, but Menlo explains on their website that using that data alone doesn’t tell the true picture — the school makes the case that the use of value-added data is a better, more “objective” indicator of their success as a school:
How can value-added analysis positively impact gifted students?
Noting whether a gifted student’s achievement surpasses a state’s proficiency performance level likely reveals very little about the student’s growth in a given year. Many gifted students enter school near, at or above that achievement level. Similarly, minimal information is probably gained about a school’s effectiveness with gifted students by documenting how many of the high-achieving students have passed a state’s proficiency test. For these reasons and others, a progress measure to gauge the amount of student learning realized over a year’s time makes more sense to objectively assess gifted students’ learning gains and the schools’ effectiveness with gifted students.
Whether or not you believe that using value-added data to measure a school’s performance is a good idea, Menlo Park Academy trumpets its use as a better metric to judge their own performance. So, how is Menlo Park doing? Well, if you go to their website and look at their “Record of Excellence” page, they only share their latest achievement test results. Why is that? The latest report cards clearly identify not only how the entire school’s population has grown from one year to the next, but the newest report card has a new category that explicitly spells out how a school has done with its gifted population. For a school that is “focused solely on serving gifted learners”, a school whose tagline reads, “Developing the Potential of Gifted Learners” and a school that believes that value-added is the best metric to judge their success with their population of gifted students, why aren’t their results prominently displayed on their website? We went to the Ohio Department of Education website to look at Menlo Park’s 2012-13 Report Card and here’s what we found:
Oh. That’s awkward.
A “C” grade would mean that from one year to the next, the students are maintaining their high level of achievement from one year to the next (i.e., if students scored in the 90th percentile and continued to stay at that level across the years, the school’s grade would be a “C”). Last year, the oft-maligned Cleveland School District provided more students (55) and more taxpayer dollars ($404,736.10) to Menlo Park Academy than any other school district and received a “C” in this category — yet we don’t see them advertising as being “focused solely on serving gifted learners”, do we? No, Cleveland must serve all learners.
Menlo Park’s value-added grade of “F” means that their gifted students’ achievement test results are dropping over time. Not only are the students not improving, they aren’t even maintaining their achievement levels from one year to the next.
For a charter school that supposedly specializes in Developing the Potential of Gifted Learners, they sure have a funny way of showing it.