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File photo / Mail Tribune
Students at Armadillo Technical Institute in Phoenix study climate change and energy use in this 2016 photo.

Armadillo charter school cut back, told to improve

This school year will bring change to Phoenix-Talent charter school Armadillo Technical Institute, whose five-year charter renewal eliminates sixth through eighth grades, re-opens a General Equivalency Diploma program and requires increases in student achievement and attendance.

The school, which now accepts students only in grades nine through 12, has not offered a GED program since June 2013, when the Oregon Department of Education counted GED recipients as dropouts in its annual data.

Since then, ODE began accounting for GEDs in its annual “completer” rate, which is nonetheless counted separately from four-year graduation — typically the most touted metric in public education.

Armadillo Technical Institute, which Executive Director Summer Brandon said enrolls about 100 students year to year, had a 42.9 percent four-year graduation rate in 2017. That’s up from 20.83 percent, 20.59 percent and 11.76 percent in the three years before then.

Brandon said judging academic achievement exclusively by four-year graduation rates, particularly at a school catering to students who voluntarily opt out of traditional settings, gives a “limited view of success.”

“Because we serve students who are typically not successful in school, it is particularly challenging,” Brandon said.

While offering a GED prep program will not improve graduation numbers, it could possibly boost the completer rate — which was a condition laid out in the new charter that both the Phoenix-Talent School Board and the ATI board passed last month.

“That process went really well,” said Brent Barry, Phoenix-Talent superintendent, “and I believe this charter really reflects and builds accountability for both parties.”

The charter requires that the school reach and maintain an 80 percent completion rate by fall 2020, with biennial reviews between ATI and the district to set goals.

ATI’s completion rate in 2017 was 46.4 percent.

“If students are consistently unable to reach desired progress outcomes, ATI and the District will collaborate to develop a plan of action to elevate student progress in areas of student need,” the charter reads.

Attendance is another focus area, with a requirement that regular attendance rate increase to 60 percent by June 2020. According to Oregon law, regular attenders are students who miss fewer than eight unexcused one-half-day absences, or the equivalent thereof, in any four-week period.

ATI’s regular attendance rate was 28.8 percent in its 2016-2017 report card with ODE.

Brandon said the school’s leaders appreciate the Phoenix-Talent School District continuing to work with them and is looking for ways to improve metrics noted in the charter.

“We serve a really wide variety of students and our goal is to help those students find success,” she said. “Sometimes that doesn’t line up with traditional ways of measuring success in school and we’re OK with that ... In the same way that I don’t necessarily lose sleep over those numbers, I certainly pay attention to them.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

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