Private, charter schools not as overwhelmed by assessments

Although private and charter schools cannot completely escape standardized testing, their students don't usually spend nearly as many hours taking assessments as their public-school counterparts.

The federal and state departments of education require students at public schools to take part in various standardized tests -- usually to fulfill some accountability requirement -- but those tests aren't always required of charter or private schools.

"I think all schools, be it traditional, charter or private, I think we are all vulnerable to getting to caught up and putting too much weight on any standardized test," said Riverview Charter School director Alison Thomas. "We have to remind ourselves that it is not the only measure worth having."

That's not to say students there take no standardized tests -- or that private and charter-school administrators would scrap them altogether, even if they could.

For instance, charter schools are public institutions, and although they are granted greater leeway than traditional public schools, they still are required to take some state or federally mandated tests.

At local charter schools like Riverview and Bridges Preparatory School, students must take state-required tests like the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards, or PASS, and end-of-course exams for core subjects.

Like county public schools, Riverview also chooses to administer the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP tests, which help teachers assess students' understanding of subject matter as the school year progresses, Thomas said. However, unlike Beaufort County School District students, who take the assessments three times each year, Riverview students take the tests only in the fall and spring.

Private schools have even greater leeway in determining whether to administer standardized tests.

Hilton Head Preparatory School guidance counselor said the school, as with other private schools, use them to measure progress and to prepare students for assessments such as the ACT or SAT, which they'll need to take before applying to college.

"We do offer several standardized tests throughout a students career as part of a holistic approach to help students prepare for the four years of high school and college after that where they will be taking more tests," Prep counselor Peg Hamilton said.

Private and charter schools tend to shy away from standardized testing whenever it conflicts with their ability to innovate or provide individualized instruction, administrators say.

"It's pretty evident in our charter that we believe in authentic assessment and are whole-child focused, so we want students to show us what they have learned in a lot of different ways and not just a standardized assessment," Thomas said. "We try to use a lot of different types of assessments, more than just standardized assessments, to really get at what students know."

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