Audits show online charter schools struggling

New state audits of Georgia’s online charter schools show academic achievement lagging.

The results from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts show both Georgia Cyber Academy and Georgia Connections Academy underperformed on the state schools report card, the College and Career Ready Performance Index.

“Georgia Cyber Academy’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores were below the state average for the elementary, middle, and high schools, with elementary and high school scores approximately 20 points below the state average,” says one of the reports, published in late December by the Performance Audit Division. The CCRPI is a 100-point scale, and the Cyber Academy underperformed in all components at the elementary and high school levels; middle school performance was similarly low, except in a category called “readiness.”

Georgia Connections Academy’s scores were “slightly” below the state average in all grade bands, though English language arts was a bright spot.

The Cyber Academy notes that the audit used older data and that there’ve been changes at the school since then. It is the largest public school in the state, with about 14,000 students at the time of the audit. It’s enrollment was demographically similar to state enrollment as a whole last year except for a smaller percentage of English language learners and a larger percentage from economically disadvantaged households.

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Connections Academy is much smaller, with 4,000 students who are generally better off economically.

Charter schools are privately operated with public dollars and are are free from many of the state and local rules that bind traditional public schools. They are open to all residents within their attendance zone.

The attendance zones at these two schools are statewide, though both are a popular option in metro Atlanta, according to maps included with the audits.

Online schooling advocates, and a former leader of the Cyber Academy, have argued that virtual schools should be held to a different, lower, standard because their students tend to be more transient. The median “mobility” rate — the proportion of students transferring between schools — is 16 percent in Georgia. It was twice that high at Cyber Academy and even higher, 41 percent, at Connections. The State Charter Schools Commission, which granted both schools their operating charters, has pushed back, saying the state performance measure should apply to all schools.

Michael Kooi, executive director of the Cyber Academy, said the audit used 2016-17 school year performance data and that a new executive team has made “significant” changes to address the performance.

“These changes include, but are not limited to, working with the State Charter Schools Commission, as well as our parents, to better address the quality and appropriateness of a virtual setting for our students,” he said in an email. This should address concerns about the academic performance, he added.

The school earned a “D” from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement for the 2016-17 school year. The score did not change for 2017-18. Connections earned the same score for 2016-17, but improved to a “C” for the last school year.

The annual audits are mandated by state law.

See the audits:

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