AUGUSTA — The Maine Charter School Commission should standardize and streamline the way it oversees charter schools to better track how they are performing, according to an external review by education experts.

“You are far ahead of brick-and -mortar and traditional schools in terms of having a framework and using that framework to advise and monitor charter schools,” David Silvernail told the commission members at their regular meeting Tuesday. “This (report) is how to sharpen and enhance that framework.”

Also Tuesday, the commission members raised the possibility that they will take a one-year hiatus in considering applications for a 10th charter school – the last allowed under Maine’s 10-charter school cap. That’s because they are in the process of updating and revising their internal work flow, and may want to complete that process before beginning another competitive and time-consuming RFP – or request for proposals – process.

The commission said it would make the decision about whether to open the RFP process at its January meeting.

Maine’s nine charter schools, which include two online virtual charter schools, serve about 2,200 students.

Tuesday’s report was co-authored by Silvernail, professor emeritus at the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation, and former Charter Commission member Richard Barnes, also a professor emeritus at USM and a former York County school superintendent.

The report was the first of three presentations planned by Silvernail and Barnes on Maine charter schools, focused on how the commission evaluates the schools. The final two reports will be about how to best assess charter schools and an analysis of student performance.

In his presentation, Silvernail emphasized the need to have charter schools use test results to set realistic growth goals and drill down into the performance of subgroups, based on student demographics such as gender, economic-advantaged status and special needs.

Under state charter law, the schools are required to address achievement gaps in major student subgroups, he noted.

“However, we found little evidence through our analyses that this was occurring on a consistent basis and in all the charter schools,” he said in the report.

The commission should also require all charter schools to give the same assessment test, instead of the current regulation that they have a “school selected assessment” in addition to the required Maine Educational Assessment – or MEA – used by all traditional public schools in Maine, according to the report.

Currently six of the nine schools use the Northwestern Evaluation Association – or NWEA – test. The report recommends that all nine use that test at least twice a year, in the fall and spring.

All charter schools should also document how they are improving academic proficiency in specific subgroups, such as students who were not meeting proficiency in one year, then evaluating those students to see if they reached proficiency the next year.

Traditional schools have similar testing data, but are not required to set growth goals or improve performance of subgroups, Silvernail said.

He said he’d like all schools in Maine to have that requirement, and noted that the state charter school law has more rigorous academic standards and explicit growth goals than traditional schools.

“We actually believe the framework you have would be very good to use statewide,” Silvernail said. “Schools should be doing the same kind of reporting and monitoring.”

The commission also unveiled its first annual report Tuesday, with descriptions of each of the charter schools and demographic and academic data on each school.

Statewide charter school student demographics are 51 percent female to 49 percent male; 18 percent special education students; 34 percent students getting free and reduced lunch, an indicator of low income; and are almost universally English-speaking students.

That compares to an average 17.5 percent special education, 44 percent free and reduced lunch and 3 percent English language learners at all public schools statewide, which includes charter schools, and some private schools that report those statistics to the DOE.

The report also includes MEA test results on each school, compared to the state average.

For the fiscal year ending in June 2017, the commission received $581,538 from the state – or 2.5 percent of the charter schools’ state education funds – to cover its costs. It used $304,007 and carried over the balance to the next year. In previous years, the commission has returned excess funds to the charter schools.

Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

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