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Exclusive: Even after taking out gifted magnets, LAUSD magnets outperform charter schools on state standardized tests

Sarah Favot | October 23, 2017




Even after you take out gifted magnet programs where students have to meet academic admissions requirements, students at LA Unified’s magnet schools outperformed their peers at independent charter schools, an LA School Report analysis of district data found.

The district released its own analysis last week of this year’s state standardized test scores, showing that for the third year in a row, student performance at magnets topped those at charters, all LA Unified schools, and the state average. The results are from the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress tests, which are also known as Smarter Balanced Assessments or SBACs. The tests were taken last spring by students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11. The scores were released by the state last month.

LA School Report took the district’s analysis and separated the 44 magnet programs or schools where students have to meet minimum academic requirements, known as gifted or highly gifted magnets.

On the English language arts portion of the test, 80 percent of students at gifted magnets met or exceeded standards. They were followed by students at all magnets with 60 percent, the state average of 49 percent, LA’s independent charter schools who scored 46 percent, and lastly the average for all LA Unified students, which was 40 percent.

In math, 68 percent of students at gifted magnets met or exceeded standards. At all magnets, 48 percent of students met or exceeded standards, followed by the state average of 38 percent, 31 percent for LA charter schools, and 30 percent for all LA Unified students.

Separating out the gifted magnets, students at the district’s 171 non-selective magnets still outpaced state averages and charters. In English language arts, 59 percent of students at the non-selective magnets met or exceeded standards and 41 percent did so in math.

“We are pleased that so many of our students have attained proficiency as we prepare them to succeed in a challenging and diverse world,” Acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said in a news release. “Our focus remains on working together to support learning and achievement so that all of our students will graduate with the skills and knowledge demanded of the next generation of leaders.”

Now in the third year of the tests, after a year of growth, results for students statewide stalled. LA Unified students — in magnets, affiliated charter schools and traditional schools — showed some improvement, about 1 percentage point in ELA and 2 percentage points in math.

(Source: LA Unified)

There are 225 magnets schools and centers in LA Unified. Magnets, which can be an entire school or a program within a school, are specialized based on specific themes like Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, known as STEM, performing arts, or business. Magnets are open to all students, but they must apply and admission is based on a points system. Points are earned based on race, as the magnets were originally created in the late 1970s and early ’80s to help integration efforts. There are other factors also, such as if the student’s home school is overcrowded and if a student has applied to a magnet before and didn’t get in.

Some magnets are for gifted students and have minimum academic requirements to get in.

Magnets are viewed by many in the district as a key to reversing LA Unified’s steady enrollment decline as charter schools have grown, the birth rate has declined, and families have left Los Angeles as housing costs have skyrocketed.

(Source: LA Unified)

The California Charter Schools Association released a statement after the release of the state standardized test scores pointing out that charter school outperformed traditional LA Unified schools.

“While there is clearly more work to be done, it’s gratifying to see the hard work of LA’s charter schools paying off for some of our most vulnerable students,” spokesman Richard Garcia said in a statement.

The CCSA noted LA’s top performing middle schools were charter schools: Alfred B. Nobel Charter Middle, which is an affiliated charter school that also has a science, technology and math magnet on campus, Renaissance Arts Academy, KIPP Los Angeles College Preparatory, Paul Revere Charter Middle, and New West Charter.

Average Point Difference is a measure that compares a school’s SBAC scale scores by grade to the state standard for “met.” (Source: California Charter Schools Association)

Here are some demographic differences when you compare magnets, charter schools, and traditional district schools:

  • Magnets had fewer economically disadvantaged students compared to charters and traditional schools.
  • Magnets had the highest percentage of African-American students and lowest percentage of Latino students compared to charters and traditional schools.
  • Charters had the lowest percentage of white and Asian students.
  • Magnets had a lower percentage of students with disabilities and English learners compared to charters and traditional schools.

Here are some findings in the district’s comparison among magnets, charters, and district schools:

  • The achievement gap persisted at all schools: African-American students had the lowest scores, followed by Latino students, while Asian students had the highest scores followed by white students.
  • Students at magnets who are economically disadvantaged scored higher than their peers at traditional schools and charter schools.
  • Scores for English language learners at charter schools were higher than at traditional schools and magnets.
  • A higher percentage of reclassified English learners at magnets met or exceeded standards compared to traditional schools and charters.
  • Students with disabilities at magnet schools scored higher than at traditional and charter schools.
  • African-American students at charter schools scored lower in math than African-American students at traditional schools.
  • Economically disadvantaged students at traditional schools made higher gains compared to last year than their peers at magnet schools.
  • When looking at results by grade level, magnets outscored charters and traditional schools in all grades in English and math. Charters outscored traditional schools in all grades except sixth grade in English and math and in seventh-grade math.
  • In charter schools, the grade level with the biggest gains in math compared to last year was eighth grade with a 3 percentage point increase.
  • In magnets schools, the grade level that made the biggest gains in math was third grade with a 3 percentage point increase.

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