Latin Academy Charter Excels at “Blocking and Tackling”

By Eric Wearne

Eric Wearne Senior Fellow Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Eric Wearne
Senior Fellow
Georgia Public Policy Foundation

Latin Academy Charter School opened its doors for the first time in 2012 with 90 sixth graders, in the Anderson Park neighborhood of southwest Atlanta.  Work on the school started formally in 2010, and Latin’s board, administration, teachers, and families have been waiting to see how a school that had existed only on paper for so long would perform in the real world.  Now, the Georgia Department of Education has released school-level CRCT scores.  Our scores are strong:

In reading, 97.8 percent of Latin Academy’s students met or exceeded standards this year, placing the Academy 6th out of 23 APS schools.

In math, 79.1 percent of Academy students met or exceeded standards, placing them 8th out of 23.  Compared only to similar schools (those within 10 percent of Latin Academy’s Free/Reduced Lunch rate of 93 percent), Academy scholars placed third in math, out of 15 schools.  More Latin Academy scholars met or exceeded standards in reading than any similar APS school.

Latin Academy’s students for the most part did not start the year at these high levels.  In addition to the CRCT, we administer the norm-referenced Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test multiple times during the year, in order to see our growth before the state’s summative tests in the spring, and to adjust our teaching before then if necessary.

In the fall, Academy scholars ranked, on average, at about the bottom third nationally.  By the end of the school year, the typical student at Latin Academy scored at the 47th percentile on the MAP, or nearly the national average. We expect our students to keep improving these ranks in 7th and 8th grades.

While Latin Academy is similar in many ways to other no excuses-style schools, we have some unique beliefs and practices that we think are helping our students learn.

First, too big to fail is too big. We are an independent startup charter school; we seek small, local, Latin Academy-specific answers to problems.  We have developed and adjusted our curriculum over the course of the year, according to demonstrated student need.

We have built a career ladder that gives teachers more responsibility and higher compensation over time as they prove their skills, and allows them to stay in the classroom where they shine.  We do collect a lot of data on students — not just test data, but data on behavior, homework, etc.  When something is going wrong, we are able to quickly and specifically diagnose and address it.

Second, we care about standardized testing…to a point. Of course we are focused on meeting the performance terms in our charter.  And our students have done well in their first year of testing at the Academy.  But we don’t do explicit test prep all year long.  We don’t do stacks of practice tests, thinking that those will teach our students more reading and math skills.  We believe the way for them to become better readers and mathematicians is to do more reading and math.  Our days and year are longer than most schools, so we do have more time.  That time is spent practicing skills and helping students become educated people.

Third, all students at the Academy will study the Latin language.  In earlier grades, this means vocabulary and culture embedded in other subjects, while many of the students get caught up to grade level on their reading and math skills.  By 8th grade, every student will study the language explicitly.  Studying Latin, we believe, will help our scholars be well-rounded, educated people, and will help them to learn in other areas.

And most importantly, Every Latin Academy student, no matter where their skills are when they enter the school, will be placed on a path to college by the time they leave.  No matter how far behind a student is when he or she enters, that expectation does not change.

The state’s release of annual test scores has reinforced these beliefs and practices and proven to be a strong indicator of the road ahead for Latin Academy Charter School.  We take the “blocking and tackling” of educating our scholars seriously, and we’ve done well in our first year.  Still, those scores are not and never will be the greatest measure of our success.  Beyond the scores, and perhaps most importantly, we had extremely low attrition among staff and scholars this year.

Parents have chosen and stayed with the Academy’s model, despite its uniqueness and rigor.  They have placed their trust in the Latin Academy way, and we will keep striving to serve them well.

(Eric Wearne is Assistant Professor at the Georgia Gwinnett College School of Education and a senior fellow for education policy at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.  This article is republished from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)