Thursday, March 01, 2007

Highland Tech High - Anchorage School District Charter School

Highland Tech High - Anchorage School District Charter School

As you might know, I have a fetish for the School of the Future, a Microsoft sponsored school based on project learning. You might also suspect that I am a bit sceptical of its curriculum, but we have to wait on the test scores to see.

But... while researching Anchorage schools, I came across the School of the Future's Alaskan clone. It's called Highland Tech.

Highland Tech, according to the website is an alternate charter school that utilizes project based learning, comprehensive assessments and community immersion. It invites local business leaders to evaluate students work. Computers and technology are heavily integrated into subjects. Student also move through the courses at their own pace, and can only move on once they have demonstrated mastered a course. They don't have grades, they have proficiency levels. Conceivably, a student could whiz through the curriculum and graduate in 3 years.

It sounds pretty cutting edge. Obviously it is a model school... right?

Not so fast there. Lets check out there test scores.

82.4%, 84.6%, and 80.4% of their students were proficient in reading, writing, and math respectively. This is roughly comparable to the school district which has proficiency levels of 76.4%, 90.8%, and 79.9%. It appears that Highland Tech is no better than the local school district at improving proficiency.

Of course proficiency scores often hide real performance, since proficiency is just an arbitrary line drawn to say that the kids are at least above some certain level. If we look at the breakdown of the scores, we can see a lot more.

Perhaps the best indicator of the quality of education a school provides is its average scale score growth between two consecutive grades in a cohort of students. Luckily, Anchorage's profile of performance gives us these numbers.

Here are the score differences between the same group of students tested in one grade in 2005 and the next grade in 2006.

6th to 7th grades
Reading -11.5
Writing -.08
Math -26.7

7th to 8th grades
Reading +4.2
Writing +4.5
Math +0.5

8th to 9th
Reading -11.5
Writing -0.8
Math -19.8

9th to 10th
Reading -0.7
Writing +9.5
Math -2.0

It is sort of hard to interpret scale score growth, but I am not impressed. The school seems to struggle particularly in math instruction.

Perhaps we should check out proficiency levels compared to the district instead.

Advanced 26.7% to 35.6% in the district
Proficient 54% to 46.7% in the district

Advanced 3.9% to 9.6% in the district
Proficient 68.5% to 67.7% in the district

Advanced 12.4% to 27.5% in the district
Proficient 42.4% to 38.5% in the district

Just in case you were wondering, demographically the school pretty much mirrors the local school district.

It appears that the advanced students suffer the most, especially in math.

Now, some of you will be saying that these test scores could be affected by lots of other factors skewing the results. If the school does a great job of keeping their low performing students in school, wouldn't that affect their overall average? Well of course it would, so let's take a look at their graduation and dropout rates.

School Dropout Rate: 13.6% District: 6.28%
School Graduation Rate: 43.2% District: 63.9%

Damn... that sucks.

I think from the numbers that I have shown, we can conclude that the whole project based learning deal isn't all that its cracked up to be.

Have a great day!


Scott Woods said...

As you noted, going to a charter school is often a hassle. Those students and parents who choose such an environment generally have some strong reason to do so. Often, it is the realization that the local school does not serve the needs of the student. This skews the population of many of these schools in a comparison with the local district. Most charter schools in my experience, and I have worked at five of them, draw a high percentage of their students from the ranks of those who are struggling academically, socially, or behaviorally. I'm not a big fan of project based education, but I don't think we can condemn it based on the data shown.

Parentalcation said...

That is an excellent point, though if the purpose of this school was to remediate troubled students then self-paced instruction isn't the answer. Actually, self paced instruction isnt the answer for 90% of all students.

While I agree that charter schools are often the answer for struggling students, this school presents itself as an option for students who want a challenge. If it was a school for the academically challenged, the proficiency scores would probably be a lot worse, instead they match the district as a whole. This school starts off with proficient students, and then they drop off after there. Its the scale score improvements that I really have issue with.

Anonymous said...

This is a very VERY late comment... almost two years old. Wow.
I felt the need though - while googling to try and find my own personal graduate date - to read this post and comment on it.
I graduated from Highland Tech High School, with honors, a year early...
However the points you make are wonderful.
I never completed a math course while at HTH, yet graduated with all the appropriate 'math credits'. I was not truly taught math, nor science as a whole.
This is a wonderful concept for a school, but for the first few graduating classes, we were really hit between the eyes so to say, as we were consequently the guinea pigs for this system. In the first three years, we were subjected to three completely different schools and curriculum.
I'm saddened to say I was never given the opportunity to learn to my full capacity, but was pleased to be done with it all in the end.
I'm glad you posted here. Many of Highland's graduates would definitely agree!