At Boston Charter Schools, Higher Standards Mean Fewer Graduate in Four Years

A new study shows that charter school students do better on the SAT, MCAS, and AP tests, but have lower four-year graduation rates
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Students at Boston charter schools are less likely to graduate in four years than their public school peers—and that may not be such a bad thing. According to recent research, the difference is probably because charter schools keep students back for a year or two to meet higher standards.

Roughly 59 percent of Boston’s charter school students graduated high school within four years, 10 percent fewer than those at public schools, according to the study (pdf) by the School ­Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Within six years, however, the charter school graduation rate jumped to 82 percent, compared with 78 percent for traditional high schools.

“We often work with students for a fifth or sixth year to get them genuinely ready to attend four-year colleges,” says Stig Leschly, chief executive of Match Education, which operates Boston’s Match High Charter School. Most often, students are held back as freshman or sophomores, he says.

Test results seem to support the strategy. According to the MIT study, Boston charter school students outperform their public school peers on the SAT, state assessment tests, and advanced placement (AP) tests. The most significant difference is on the SAT, where charter students on average scored 100 points higher. (MIT did not include two charter schools that closed due to poor performance while the study was in progress.)

Students at Boston charter schools were also twice as likely to take an AP test, which can earn students college credit. “Ninety percent of our kids will take at least one AP course in our school, and 90 percent will take at least one at Boston University,” says Leschly.

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