State-mandated academic testing is challenging for all schools in Pennsylvania.
But for a school the size of the Tidioute Community Charter School, with 297 students currently enrolled, the challenges associated with state standardized tests can be unique and potentially more severe.
Charter schools are subject to the same testing requirements that traditional public school districts face. For the current academic year, that means Keystone Exams for students in 11th grade as well as PSSA (Pennsylvania System of Scholastic Assessment) tests for the other grades.
While the testing requirements are the same, an individual student test score has much greater force in a school with an enrollment under 300 than in a school district of 4,500 students.
"Given our small numbers, every student's test score impacts the school greatly," TCCS Chief Educational Officer Dr. Doug Allen said.
While all juniors in the Commonwealth, whether in a district or charter, must score proficiently on the Keystone Exams, the proficiency benchmark for the other grades can harm small schools.
"For the grade three through eight tests, we have a requirement that 91 percent of all tested students score proficient for us to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) under No Child Left Behind laws," he said. "That means that nearly all test takers from Warren County, Forest County, Titusville and Corry in grades 3-11, regardless of the abilities or personal motivations, must pass very difficult math and reading tests in the next week."
TCCS has students from each of those districts enrolled at the school.
Allen added, "For TCCS, that means that only one child per grade level can be less than proficient for us to score well under the PDE total score calculation for AYP."
While the urge to teach to the test can be strong, Allen explained that the staff are trying to strike a balance.
"We are trying our best to be motivators and teachers of information at the same time," he said. "Students must realize the value of trying their best for five days of testing."