The Denair Charter Academy was included in a list of 16 charter schools across the state facing possible charter revocation due to poor academic performance.
New state regulations specific to charter schools require the California Department of Education and the State Superintendent of Public Schools, Tom Torlakson, to make a recommendation to the State Board of Education regarding possible revocation of the schools charters. Regulations require the CDE to review charter schools that are identified as having a substantial and continued departure from educational practices that “would jeopardize the educational development of the school’s pupils.”
Denair Unified School District Superintendent Ed Parraz and DCA Principal Karla Paul indicated that they believe the school has been identified because of its low API rank and scores. The API is an annual measure of state academic performance and progress of schools in California. Scores range from 200 to 1,000, with a statewide target of 800.
DCA was the lowest amongst all schools in the Turlock area with an API of 541, up three points from the previous year. Also tied to the API is a ranking from 1 to 10 (10 being the highest) compared to similar schools. In each of the last three years DCA has had a rank of 1.
Part of the API is score assessments rating the percent of students performing at proficient or advanced in academic areas. In 2010-11 DCA students reached 24 percent proficient in English, 8 percent in math, 17 percent in science and 13 percent in history-social Science.
“The CDE required that we improved our API by 50 points over the last three years and we’ve only had a 42-point growth. That is the only thing I can see that would have put us on the radar,” said Paul.
But both Parraz and Paul said the API doesn’t measure the true success of DCA’s accomplishments.
“Our charter was drafted to meet the needs of at-risk youth,” said Paul. “The goal here is to get these kids a diploma.”
“Our accountability is graduation and getting those kids diplomas,” said Parraz.
In a letter to CDE Education Administrator Bonnie Galloway Parraz wrote: “From the onset of this charter school, our district knew the challenge to work with at-risk students and contending to its API…since DCA’s first graduation, DCA has graduated 457 seniors (84 percent graduation rate). If DCA did not exist, how many of these students would have not earned a high school diploma?”
DCA’s original charter was intended to give parents a choice in their child’s education for whatever reason that may be. DCA offers an independent study program in which students are required to meet one-on-one with a teacher for one hour a week. Teachers, parents and students work together to develop a customized learning plan for the student. The school also offers a home-schooling program and a distance learning program.
Paul pointed out that DCA received a six-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Six years is the highest level WASC can award a school. DCA is in year five of six.
DCA was launched in 2001, and, according to Parraz, it has grown from a graduating class of 11 to a K-12 school of more than 400 children and a graduating class of 70 last school year.
“We are graduating as many kids as Denair High School,” said Paul.
Parraz said more than 75 percent of DCA students come in from other districts and that the API scores do not necessarily reflect the true DCA scores. About 60 percent of graduates are from other districts as well.
“The vast majority of DCA students are considered at-risk and for whatever reason could not function in a comprehensive high school,” said Parraz.
In a formal letter to Parraz and Paul, CDE Deputy Superintendent Deborah V.H. Sigman acknowledged that test scores don’t entirely paint the picture of failure or success.
“The CDE recognizes that each of these schools proposes to meet a need in its community and that many of these schools serve pupil populations at risk of not graduating from high school. To evaluate the extent to which each of these schools meets the needs of its intended population, the CDE will continue to work with the authorizer of each school identified so that additional information, as needed, is collected regarding action plan and progress made in achieving the goals identified in such plans.”
The DCA “authorizer” is the DUSD Board of Trustees.
The State Board of Education will hear the CDE revocation recommendations at a meeting scheduled for March 7 and 8. The review of the charter schools will be concluded by the end of March.
“In a worst case scenario they revoke our charter, we could just open as an independent study school,” said Parraz.