A school that holds itself accountable is one that states its objectives, assesses its success in achieving those objectives, and reports to students, parents, and the community on its achievements.
Princeton Charter School (PCS) holds itself accountable to its various constituencies, including the taxpayers who largely support the school. School accountability begins with a curriculum that includes clearly stated, measurable outcomes logically developed within and between grades. PCS assesses and reports on many measures of student academic achievement and other important outcomes of the school's program.
All schools should be accountable, but this responsibility is especially important for charter schools. The State of New Jersey grants charters based on objectives that appear in a school's charter application, and on the evidence of adequate resources and methodologies to meet those objectives. If, after a reasonable period, a charter school cannot show that it is achieving its goals, the New Jersey Department of Education will place the school on probation. Continued failure will result in the school's closure. Conversely, charter schools that are demonstrably successful offer ideas and models that other schools may be able to emulate.
No school is just right for every child. To make intelligent placement choices, parents need information about what and how the school teaches. PCS's charter, available in the office and on the school's web site, states the school's rationale, its mission, and its programs. Parents should also know how well their children and other students are learning. This brochure describes the ways PCS defines its goals and objectives, and how student learning is measured and reported.
The school's nine-member board of trustees determines policies and hires administrators and teachers to carry them out. The Head of School reports to the board and is accountable for all aspects of the school's operation. Two assistant administrators report to the Head; all three of these administrators are also teachers in the school. PCS also has a business administrator who manages the school's finances. Ultimately, the board, school administrators, and teachers are accountable to the students, the parents, the Princeton community, and the NJ Department of Education.
A school's major responsibility is to teach, that is, to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need in order to continue to learn and mature. That responsibility extends to students' physical and social development, but primarily focuses on academic achievement.
Curriculum goals and objectives are listed in the school's charter and expanded in the "Education Program." These PCS publications describe specific approaches and expected outcomes for every subject and grade level. In each subject area, a committee consisting of teachers, administrators, parents, and board members devises and periodically reviews a syllabus that includes detailed content and resources; the committee also ensures continuity within the subject area from grade-to-grade. The curriculum committees meet regularly to consider reports from teachers and recommendations for changes.
Assessment of student achievement begins with the classroom teachers. By observing and interacting with students and by grading homework, quizzes, and tests, teachers gauge how well students have learned. In interim and quarterly reports to parents and in parent-teacher conferences, faculty members describe their understanding of student achievement.
PCS Milestones of Achievement are specific academic tasks by which student progress is measured and celebrated; each grade has two or three milestones. For example, in grade three, students write a story similar to the folk tales read in class and demonstrate mastery of multiplication tables. Grade eight milestones are a substantial essay on a history topic, a quantitative science laboratory report, and an interdisciplinary art and world language presentation. Teacher-specialists other than the classroom teacher evaluate milestones projects; in grade eight, one evaluator must be a member of the larger community, that is, not a PCS faculty member.
Standardized test results inform teachers about student learning and are an important component of PCS's accountability process. The school-wide examinations administered at PCS are the Educational Records Bureau examinations (ERBs). The ERBs test reading, writing, and mathematics, with several sub-tests in each category, including an essay examination in writing. The tests are administered in early fall so that results can be used by teachers for diagnosis and remediation during the second semester. The school's trustees receive detailed summaries for each class and discuss them in an open board meeting. The results are matched against national, suburban, and independent school norms. The report to the board includes year-to-year comparisons for student cohorts broken into groups of students achieving at high, low, and average levels. Faculty and parents receive reports for individual students; parents are also given a summary of each grade's performance and that of the total school. Test results are included in PCS's required annual report to the New Jersey Department of Education.
The State of New Jersey mandates testing for all public elementary and middle school students in grades three, four, and eight. These tests measure student proficiency in English and mathematics, and allow comparisons with other public schools in New Jersey.
Certification, licensing and audits are also ways of demonstrating accountability. PCS is certified by the Department of Education of the State of New Jersey, and all teachers must be licensed by the State. The school is regularly audited by visiting teams from the Department of Education. Additionally, PCS has voluntarily sought and received accreditation by the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE). PCS is the first charter school in the nation accredited by AALE, which praised the school as a national model. In preparation for audits and accreditation visits, the board and administration submit records and prepare detailed descriptions of all aspects of the school's operation.
Character education begins in each classroom with clear standards of behavior. Through example and by classroom instruction and training, teachers are responsible for assisting parents in their children's moral education. Periodically, the upper and lower grades have separate assemblies devoted to themes such as courage, justice, respect, and generosity. Social development is encouraged at every stage from sharing and story time in the primary grades to activities of the student government. Classroom and school-wide parties are frequent, as are games and athletic events in which all are invited to participate. Upper-grade students make an overnight trip together, emphasizing activities that encourage cooperation among students and the accompanying adults. Student safety is evidenced in monthly fire drills and the maintenance of secure buildings. The constant presence of staff and parent volunteers on the playground, in the lunchroom, at the bus loading areas, and on field trips and athletic events contributes to student safety.
Fiduciary responsibility is discharged through scrupulous accounting and a yearly audit, as required by the State. PCS receives tax funds for its operating budget. Unlike other public schools, charter schools do not receive tax monies for capital expenses, so PCS carries a substantial mortgage on its buildings. The school supplements its income from local and state taxes by fund-raising activities within and outside the school community.
In summary, PCS reports its progress in achieving the goals of its charter to a variety of constituencies: the school's students and parents, the Princeton community that supports the school, and the Department of Education of the State of New Jersey, which granted and renews the school's charter. PCS's governing board and faculty employ a variety of measures to assess both student progress and the academic program, including: classroom tests, papers, projects, homework, teacher observations, and standardized test results.