Arizona law only allows for a handful of exceptions to the general rule that charter schools must be open to all students. Charter schools may give enrollment preference to returning students and to siblings of students already attending the school (A.R.S. § 15-184(B)). In addition, charter schools may give enrollment preference to the children of school employees, charter holder employees and governing board members (A.R.S. § 15-184(D)(1)).
Arizona charter schools, however, may not give enrollment preferences to students based on their academic performance. This means schools may not choose to enroll students with higher grades or test scores over students who are struggling academically. Charter schools in Arizona also may not deny enrollment to students who do not meet certain academic standards, such as a minimum grade point average or a minimum score on a standardized test.
Most charter schools in Arizona appear to accept all students, regardless of academic achievement. What’s troubling is that close to half of charter schools we analyzed request academic records as part of the enrollment process without making it clear that those records will only be used for post-enrollment placement, such as determining what level of math, reading or writing classes are appropriate for a student. Documents detailing academic progress should be requested during the registration process, after the student has been enrolled, to ensure the documents will not be used to determine a student’s chances for enrollment.
Even more troubling is the fact that at least 19 Arizona charter schools have policies or language in their enrollment documents that may prevent or discourage the enrollment of low-academic performers:
Southern Arizona Community Academy (Tucson): “I understand that I will be placed on probation during the first two weeks after my orientation session. At the end of the probation period, attendance and academic progress will be evaluated. Final acceptance into the Academy will be determined at that time. I understand that continued enrollment in the Academy will be evaluated every week from then on.”
BASIS Schools (schools throughout Arizona): Courses taken during grades K-8 at other schools are treated as elective credits. To gain core course credit, students must get approval from the director of student affairs and, in some cases, pass an exam.
Metropolitan Arts Institute (Phoenix): “Due to scheduling limitations and high admissions numbers Metro is usually unable to place students in courses below those appropriate for their correct cohort year. Please note: We are not usually able to create a schedule for students who have failed core academic classes and are therefore not part of their cohort year.”
Nosotros Academy (Tucson): At the bottom of the school’s enrollment form, a box labeled “for official use” asks if the student who is seeking enrollment has a documented history of disruptive behavior, has dropped out of school or has poor academic standing. This could give parents and prospective students the impression that these factors may be considered when determining enrollment.
YouthWorks Charter High School (Tucson): Returning students who previously attended a school within the same charter network “must show verification of a successful semester at another school. Successful semester requires the student to receive passing grades in all scheduled courses of their last semester.”
Salt River High School (Scottsdale): “Students who transfer from another school into Salt River High School after the first 10 days of school must be academically & behaviorally in good standing and meet SRHS attendance standards in order to enroll.”
- When schools ask for academic records, they need to be clear that it is for post-enrollment placement, not to make an enrollment determination. Better yet, schools should only request academic records after enrollment is complete.
- Schools should eliminate academic “probationary periods” before enrollment is finalized.
- Schools should be prepared to accommodate students of all academic abilities.
- Schools should eliminate all questions about academic performance from enrollment documentation.
- Schools should eliminate pre-enrollment testing.