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Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Nearly four years after a front-page story in "The New York Times" sparked a fierce debate by suggesting that charter school students nationally were lagging academically behind their peers in regular public schools, the national testing program that informed the controversy has generated far more data for researchers and advocates to scrutinize. Yet the more recent findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress have garnered much less attention and analysis than the 2003 results. The picture that emerges from the growing data set appears mixed for charter schools. While many analysts urge caution in using NAEP to judge the 4,300-school charter sector, the latest data do not bolster the early hopes of charter advocates that the sector as a whole would significantly outperform regular public schools. The overall scores of charter students tested in 2007 in the nationally representative assessment program were lower than for students in regular public schools in 4th grade reading and mathematics, and in 8th grade math, all by statistically significant margins. In 4th grade reading, charter students had an average score of 214, compared with 220 for regular public schools, on a 500-point scale. Looked at another way, 59 percent of charter students scored at or above the "basic" reading level on the NAEP test, compared with 66 percent in other public schools. In 8th grade reading, charter students appeared to essentially close a gap from 2005, with charter and regular public school students scoring about the same in 2007. Digging deeper in the data reveals a more complex story, though limited sample sizes for charter schools make many score differences hard to interpret with confidence. For low-income black students--a key population served by many urban charters--the 2007 performance gaps between charter and noncharter schools generally appeared smaller than those between the two sectors' populations as a whole, and none was large enough to be deemed statistically significant. Hispanic charter students, meanwhile, appeared to do about as well as or better than their peers in regular public schools across grades and subjects. But here, too, limited sample sizes make the differences too small to state with confidence.