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|
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.