Success Academy left back (at least) 1/6 of their first cohort

Out of 73 students who began Success Academy in 2006, the first group of graduates crossed the stage a few weeks ago.  The fact that there were only 16 graduates was something that even the pro-Success New York Daily News felt inclined to write an editorial entitled ‘Student success*: In praise of a charter school’s graduates, with one caveat’ which at least draws attention to this issue, though they do try to minimize it.

Success Academy recently responded to these concerns on their own blog in a post called ‘Doing the Math on Success Academy’s First Graduating Class’  While defending themselves they, ironically, revealed some information that is even more controversial.

The Success Academy blog post is supposed to make two main points:

1) That over a period of 12 years it is not that bad to lose 80% of the students since it is only, on average, about 10% a year (they use some very sketchy math to say 9% a year, but it isn’t far off from the actual yearly attrition rate.)  They even get it down to 6% by excluding certain years where students might more easily transfer like between 8th and 9th grade.  They say that this is better than district averages which, they say, are as high as 18% per year for schools in central Harlem.  Of course the issue here, and other charter schools as well as some charter cheerleaders have mentioned this, is the fact that Success Academy does not backfill.  So if a local school loses 18% of their students but then replaces them with other students (which includes, of course, students who were booted from Success Academy and other charters) then it doesn’t inflate their test scores.  But if you don’t backfill and the students you lose are your weaker students then of course your test scores will benefit from this.

2) That the 16 students who just graduated did not include the 7 other students from that cohort who are still in the school but who were left back at least one time.  So, according to them, these extra 7 students would mean that instead of losing 57 out of 73 or 78% of their students they only lost 50 out of 73 or 68% of their students.  This also means that 7 out of the 23 students who remain from the initial cohort had to repeat at least one grade.  So 30% of the original cohort who were still there at the end of this school year (or who had just graduated) were left back at least once.

The chart they provided enabled me to make some more precise conclusions.  Up until now using publicly available data I could only see the dwindling size of the cohorts.  But this new information from Success Academy sheds new light on something I’d heard about for years but never had data to analyze.  One of the ways that Success Academy gets students to leave their school is to tell them that they are going to be left back if they stay at Success Academy.  Then the students are given the option of transferring to a different school and not being left back.  I’ve known for a while that this happens since I’ve heard first hand accounts of this, but I didn’t know how common it is.

But if you take this new Success Academy data where they give the true numbers for their first cohort and put it side by side with the enrollment numbers from the state data, it looks like this:

year grade starting cohort Number who were on target to graduate in 2018 difference
2006-07 1 72 73 -1
2007-08 2 69 73 -4
2008-09 3 65 62 3
2009-10 4 55 59 4
2010-11 5 54 47 7
2011-12 6 47 40 7
2012-13 7 44 36 8
2013-14 8 39 32 7
2014-15 9 38 26 12
2015-16 10 29 20 9
2016-17 11 29 20 9
2017-18 12 25 17 8
Now Now 23 16 7

So what does this all mean?  Well look at the 2014-15 line.  The initial cohort had 38 students still in the school, but only 26 in 9th grade.  This means that 12 of the initial 73 students still in the school had been left back at least one grade.  This is a stunning one sixth of all the original students.  But even worse is that these are only the 12 that we know about.  Surely there were some students, maybe more than some, who chose to leave the school rather than get left back.  Really the only way to know would be to track down the 35 students that had left prior to 9th grade and see if any of them had chosen to leave the school in order to avoid getting left back.

Threatening to leave kids back can boost test scores as it gets some of the lowest performing students to leave the school.  Even for students who don’t leave the school, getting left back will boost test scores since the students will get higher test scores after getting an extra year to prepare for the tests.

I always knew that Success Academy left a lot of kids back.  I just never thought that it was, at minimum, one out of six.


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10 Responses to Success Academy left back (at least) 1/6 of their first cohort

  1. B says:

    Thank you for your point-of-view, I think I can use this article for my case with SUNY & NYSED. I am one of the mothers at SA currently in limbo about going back to SA in Aug. My son, who did 2nd Grd last school year, is being held back from going to 3rd Grd, this out of spite, having had an inexperienced teacher, who also was inconsistent with many truths, SA knowing that we are not going to write the State exam, my son not getting his IEP & a spiteful principal whom I have had to file a police report against & call police x5 for the school. SUNY won’t investigate the matter, citing the need to follow protocol. We have had safety issues here, a bullying matter the school took a week & an inclusion of police to look into, yet SUNY needs to wait to follow protocol. It’s sickening what’s happening @ SA. & so now we are stuck & wondering what the next school year will look like.


    • garyrubinstein says:

      I’m interested in hearing more about what has happened. If you want to email me or contact me on twitter I’m sure I can publicize your story and it would pressure Success Academy to do the right thing.

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  3. Stephen Ronan says:

    If I am reading the data correctly, the average retention rate for all Boston district schools is 3.7% per year. I think that likely includes all the selective exam and pilot schools, but not charter. I was curious as to how that compares to NYC. Didn’t yet yet find the answer, but ran across this draft paper which I thought folks here might find of interest as I did:

    “Retention Heterogeneity in New York City Schools”, Douglas Almond, Ajin Lee, and Amy Ellen Schwartz November 2016 draft paper

    “Performance on proficiency exams can be a key determinant of whether students are retained or ‘held back’ in their grade. In New York City, passing the statewide proficiency exam essentially guarantees promotion, while roughly 13% of those students who fail the exam are retained. Using regression discontinuity methods, we find that female students are 25% more likely to be retained in their grade due to exam failure than boys. Hispanic students are 60% more likely and Black students 120% more likely to be retained due to exam failure (relative to White students). Poverty and previous poor performance also increase the likelihood of retention, while being young for grade or short does not. We conclude that “patterned discretion” exists in how standardized test results are utilized.
    “We find a striking pattern whereby girls are substantially more likely to be retained due to exam failure at schools with a female principal. That said, because other (unobserved) characteristics of the school presumably vary by principal’s characteristics (cf. student gender), we characterize this pattern as descriptive. Furthermore, because girls perform better on average than boys, the unconditional retention rates remain lower for girls than boys: girls score better on average and fewer girls fail (overall).”

    Click to access retention_draft.pdf

  4. Reblogged this on Crazy Normal – the Classroom Exposé and commented:
    Eva Moskowitz is a LIAR that deliberately goes out of her way to mislead. Her Success Academy Charter Schools are anything but a success.

    How does Eva spell FAILURE? With LIES.

    • Maritza Hus says:

      I don’t agree.You can’t speak for me my son has and is continue to be very successful in Success Academy. My son grades are not Eva’s lies, Please be respectful to scholars that have worked hard to achieve grade level proficiency.

  5. There is (at least) one other troubling calculation in the Success Academy response. When they write, “… a hypothetical group of 72 first-graders at a typical district school serving kids through Grade 12 would be expected to have about 11 students remaining by the time they were ready to graduate,” they assume that the annual attrition is all from the original cohort, and none is from later arrivals (the backfill students). This is highly unlikely. Generally, it is recognized that there is a subgroup of “highly mobile students” who account for a large portion of annual attrition (and that some of these students may enroll in and leave a given multiple times between 1st and 12th grade, further complicating the calculation).

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