Keystone Report: Colorado Charter Schools Showed Strong Enrollment, Student Participation, High Proficiency Rates During Pandemic

The Keystone Policy Center released its second report analyzing public data to assess the impact the COVID-19 disruption had on Colorado education. The report released today, entitled Colorado’s Missing Year: Charter School Performance, explores recent enrollment and academic performance data to examine how charter schools fared relative to the state and other school district managed public schools in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Colorado has the third largest share of students attending charter schools in the nation, with more than 15 percent of Colorado students attending charter schools this year. As we continue to assess how the pandemic heightened education gaps and exacerbated inequities, it became imperative to also review how this public school sector is doing relative to the state and other school district managed public schools,” said Van Schoales, senior policy director at the Keystone Policy Center, who led the research team for this report. “This paper explores data to identify key questions and lessons learned for educators, policy makers, and researchers to consider moving forward.”

The charter school report analyzes school enrollment trends, student participation in academic assessments, student academic performance, and academic growth. Among the key findings included in the report are:

  • The percent of Colorado students enrolled in charter schools continues to grow, and charter schools saw increases in student enrollment during COVID-19 despite large declines in overall enrollment in public schools generally in the state.
  • On average, charter schools had higher rates of student participation on statewide assessments of academic performance in Literacy and Math in the most recent year.
  • On those assessments, charter schools had higher proficiency rates than district-run schools statewide and the majority of charter schools also outperformed their district average, consistent with historic performance trends.
  • While demographics are associated with proficiency rates for all schools, the relationship between school demographics and assessment performance is weaker in charter schools than in district managed schools.
  • Academic growth in charter schools, as in district-run schools, varies widely by grade and subject area in 2020-21 and should be considered with caution at the school level.

“We know enrollment and performance data during COVID-19 in Colorado has clear limitations and shows wide variation among schools and school governance types. However, the data still reveals lessons to be learned or other issues that should be explored further, such as sharing of best practices, equitable funding, quality authorizing practices, community responsiveness, and equitable enrollment access. These are all issues that policymakers can address to better serve our students,” said Schoales.

In October, Keystone released the first Colorado’s Missing Year report analyzing COVID-19’s impact on student learning as measured by the state mandated assessments, the Colorado Measures of Academic Standards, and Colorado PSAT and SAT. Keystone also published a set of interactive maps along with that report detailing the county-by-county student performance, participation, and demographics based on the data in the report.