NAGB Header Image

NAGB Releases Charter School Pilot Study

National Assessment Finds Student Performance Similar in Charters and Other Public Schools

The mathematics and reading performance of White, Black and Hispanic fourth-graders in charter schools is not measurably different from the performance of fourth-graders with similar racial/ethnic backgrounds in other public schools, according to results of a pilot study released today. Other findings from the study do not show any consistent pattern of differences between charter schools and other public schools.

The results, based on the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics, also reported that compared to other public schools, higher percentages of charter school fourth-graders are Black and attend schools in central cities.  "While charter schools are similar to other public schools in many respects, they differ in several important ways, including the makeup of the student population and their location," the report stated.

Darvin Winick, Chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, the independent board that authorized the study, said the results were being presented as actually measured, and to the extent possible, parallel the reporting format for states and the nation on the 2003 National Assessment. "The pilot study was a trial, however, and the need for caution in using the results is apparent," Winick said.  

 "Developing a sample of students that fairly represent the charter school population presents a real challenge," Winick said.  "Parents select charter schools for their children for reasons that may make the charter school population different from other public schools.  Most charter schools are relatively new and charters are not evenly distributed across the country. Few students have been in a charter setting for much of their education." 

The report, prepared by the National Center for Educational Statistics, notes that in 2005, NAEP will assess three subjects—reading, mathematics, and science—in fourth and eighth grades at the state and national levels and will assess more students than ever before. "A side benefit of the large assessment is that the NAEP sample will include a representative sample of charter schools without over sampling," the report states.  "NAEP will continue to identify charter schools as a separate category in the data placed on the NAEP website at the time of the initial release of each assessment"

    Charles E. Smith, National Assessment Governing Board executive director, emphasized that the charter school pilot was useful in identifying issues that need to be addressed as charter school data are folded into future national and state NAEP assessments. Smith cited the unique characteristics of charter schools that are not captured through the use of regular NAEP surveys. "There are wide variations in how charter schools are structured in individual states, the degree of oversight exerted by external agencies, the mission of the school, and the length of time chartered," Smith said.
The pilot study included 150 charter schools and sampled 3,296 students in reading and 3,238 in mathematics

The new report, America’s Charter Schools: Results From the NAEP 2003 Pilot Study, and complete details about the charter school pilot study may be accessed on the Internet at

Stephaan Harris

The National Assessment of Educational Progress is the only nationally representative, continuing evaluation of the condition of education in the United States. It has served as a national yardstick of student achievement since 1969. Through the Nation's Report Card, NAEP informs the public about what American students know and can do in various subject areas and compares achievement between states, large urban districts, and various student demographic groups.
The National Assessment Governing Board is an independent, bipartisan board whose members include governors, state legislators, local and state school officials, educators, business representatives and members of the general public. Congress created the 26-member Governing Board in 1988 to oversee and set policy for NAEP.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a congressionally authorized project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. The National Center for Education Statistics, within the Institute of Education Sciences, administers NAEP. The Commissioner of Education Statistics is responsible by law for carrying out the NAEP project.