About a year ago I found myself in a snafu of red tape as I attempted to track down the high school test results for the famed Success Academy Charter School Network. Though Success Academy is known for its stellar 3-8 Math and ELA test scores in New York State, much less is known about how students perform after 8th grade.
One reason for this is that most of the Success Academy schools only have younger students. Of the schools that do have the upper grades, the number of students in each grade is very small because of attrition and Success Academy’s refusal to ‘backfill’ student who leave with other eager students from their mythical waiting list.
The oldest Success Academy students began the school known as Success Academy Harlem I in 2006 as first graders. At that time there were 73 students in the class of 2018. By 2015 those 73 first graders had dwindled to just 20 tenth graders, down from 26 ninth graders the year before. How many of those 20 students are currently 11th graders in Success Academy is unknown to the public, though that data does get released sometime next year. It’s a safe bet to say that the number of eleventh graders right now is somewhere in the teens.
High School students in New York State take standardized final exams known as ‘The Regents.’ Students must take these Regents exams to graduate. The ‘college ready’ statistic is based on these Regents exams, and schools are judged on how well their students do on these tests.
Last year I noticed that unlike the other charter schools, there was no data for the Regents scores at Success Academy on the New York State public data site. I emailed the data department of the state and they said they did not have the data, that Success Academy did not report any data, and that if I want to know those scores my best bet would be to simply call Success Academy and ask them for the scores — something I did not try, though it would have made for an amusing telephone conversation.
The other day I checked the data site again to see if the newly posted 2016 Regents scores were available for Success Academy. Again I found no data available. Again I emailed one of the people at the data center for the state. Again they said that Success Academy did not report their results. But this time they provided some new information in their email:
|NYSED Helpdesk Team (New York State Education Department)
Dec 7, 1:59 PM EST
Thank you for reaching out to our Data Support help desk again for this same request. The school you have inquired about did not submit their Regent’s data on time. They will have an opportunity, as all schools do, to correct their data when the Level 0 Historical application opens in 2017. Corrected or missing data submitted through this application is not updated on our public data site as the information posted is from the data set submitted on time and made available to the public at that time. Therefore you will not see their data on the public data site (data.nysed.gov)
In addition, when people who are related to the press want data requests they are to be submitted to our Communications Office.
This ticket will be closed.
In some other reality I could imagine that this data person would be grateful that I identified a giant missing data point and they would be thanking me for noticing it, and basically doing their job for them for free. Instead they are telling me that even if they do get the data from Success Academy they will not update their databases with that information anyway. So basically any school can avoid having their Regents scores published publicly by conveniently missing the first deadline.
So then I wondered if maybe the 2015 scores, the ones I couldn’t get last year, were maybe available somewhere and the communications office could supply them. So I called the phone number they gave me (there was no email address so there is no paper trail about what I’m about to describe). I explained that I was a teacher who was looking for Success Academy’s Regents scores from 2015. They told me that they didn’t have access to any data so they were confused why I would be calling them. I told them that I was referred to them by the data person and then the communications person suggested that I simply call Success Academy to ask them for the missing scores. I said that it was unlikely for Success Academy to provide the scores to me and the communications person took my contact information and said she would get back to me.
I’m inclined to believe that the state is not part of a conspiracy to cover up embarrassing test scores for Success Academy. But the state does not seem overly concerned with the fact that they are not getting the Regents scores from them. Another possibility, and this would be a pretty big scandal, I think, if this is the case, perhaps students at Success Academy don’t even take Regents exams. Maybe part of their flexibility in their charter does not require it.
The strange thing about Success Academy debates is that this is a school that exists right now and not just in the abstract. There is a group of between 1 and 20 students who wake up each day and attend the eleventh grade at Success Academy Harlem I. There are also a bunch of teachers who teach those kids and surely the number of ‘degrees of separation’ between me, or any teacher in the city really, and those teachers and students is likely less than three. Yet something as simple as finding out how those students performed on a standardized test — the bread and butter of the Success Academy empire is something tjat seems as elusive as finding out the meaning of Stonehenge or how the Pyramids were constructed.
If I learn more details about the mysterious Success Academy Regents scores, I will update this post with them.