Category Archives: Academics

Celebrating growth at ASCEND

This is a guest post from Oakland Charters.

The end of the school year is approaching fast and it’s assessment time at ASCEND Elementary School, a Locally Grown Oakland Public School operated by Education for Change located in the Fruitvale neighborhood.

It’s raining outside on a recent weekday morning, so ASCEND second grade teacher Kate Snyder’s class is having recess indoors, playing board games as they huddle around short-leg tables. The class just finished a literacy block, a time normally reserved for phonics, reading and other comprehension strategies. But it’s end-of-the-year evaluation time and Snyder and the students have been checking in on progress.

As the teacher and students would go through each student’s data, Snyder is especially impressed with the growth her students are displaying. Many have made drastic improvements in their reading ability. Some students who started the year with holes in their ability to recognize letters and sounds are now talking about what they’re reading, learning, thinking, and wondering.

“It’s exciting,” Snyder says. “It makes me proud. I know the kids feel pumped, and it’s exciting to hear them talk about their data and see how much they’ve grown. They know their reading targets and have strategies, and have made these enormous leaps. It’s pretty incredible, and they’re pumped about it, too.”

Jaden, an 8-year-old student in Snyder’s class, is one such student who has made a lot of progress this year.

“I used to get stuck on each word,” he says, “Now when I’m reading I can say the word the proper way. It makes me feel good and happy that I learned.”

All around ASCEND, there is much growth to celebrate. The school was recently recognized by the CORE Districts as a school that is having “the highest impact on student achievement — (a) school where students are consistently making academic gains faster than similar students at similar schools.” Four High Impact Badges are available, and ASCEND was recognized with all four: for 1 year of math growth, 3 years of math growth, 1 year of English language arts growth, and 3 years of English language arts growth.

The CORE growth model is especially useful because it reveals the impact of a school’s pedagogy, isolating out the progress a student makes compared to peers with similar demographics, similar prior test scores, and attending similar schools. The model is able to measure growth for all students whether they are below, at, or above standard.

ASCEND Principal Morgan Alconcher said the four badges that show growth in multiple areas prove it’s not a particular curriculum or one area of focus that is driving the student growth at the school; rather the community shares in the common vision that students cultivate personal agency and learn to forge their own paths through an approach that includes arts integration and a focus on social-emotional growth

“For us, we have tried to make sure our program represents our vision,” Alconcher says, “and we have been moving bit by bit, with small actions. Everything we do is calibrated to that, and everyone is aware of where we’re headed. Sometimes schools just focus on one area, but at what cost?”

“Our dashboards and data points are the benchmarks and progress monitoring to see if we’re on track,” she later says. “Is our theory of action working and how are we tending to that?”

What it means to be a thriving student at ASCEND goes much deeper than just getting good grades, she adds, mentioning goal setting, being aware of yourself and what you need, having the ability to advocate for yourself, exploring passions, and figuring out how to make decisions. “We have to set the conditions for that,” she says. “We very much believe in learning by doing and see ourselves as designers and facilitators of learning experiences.”

Authentic student agency is important at ASCEND, Assistant Principal Jeffrey Embleton says. “It’s asking students what they want to do, how they want to learn. It can’t be a worksheet, it has to be something that really taps into their passions and lights fires.”

When it comes to sharing data with the community and keeping them informed of progress, the CORE growth model is especially useful, Alconcher says. “I often put these data points down with our vision and theory of action so parents can see them together,” she says.

“We have not hit our targets, there is still a long way to go. But we have been very committed to a path and worked really hard to get there.”

For the ASCEND community, the growth comes from a focus on continuous improvement.

“Something that we have done well that has allowed us to grow over consecutive years is we have stayed that course,” Alconcher says. “We’re not picking one component of the program to hit out of the park, and once that’s good we’ll focus somewhere else. We chose the strategy of ‘let’s stay anchored in building out our model towards our vision.’ Our goal is to get better at what we do, to beat ourselves from last year.”

Celebrating Academic Growth in Oakland

The Education Trust-West and CORE have partnered to publicly recognize schools throughout California that are supporting students to achieve high academic growth. At these high-growth schools, students are making academic gains faster than similar students at similar schools throughout the California. Right here in Oakland we have 43 high growth schools. This is a great accomplishment for school staff and students!

In future posts, we will dive into more detail about CORE’s student growth model and how it provides a different perspective from data available on the California School Dashboard.

Click here to view the complete list of high growth schools across California. Additionally, high growth schools will be acknowledged on the Ed Equity Navigator, a soon-to-be-released website that will present California education data through an equity lens.

How Urban Montessori is using CORE data

This is a guest post from Oakland Charters.

Urban Montessori Charter School students (photo by Tai Power Seef)

When new students arrive on Day 1 of a new school year, they’re about the same age as their classmates but have various levels of proficiency. Everyone knows this. Every student is unique and has different circumstances that help determine where they are in school. But when it comes time for the state test, there is a bar for proficiency: are students reaching the state standards, or are they not?

We also know many students who have not reached the state’s standard worked incredibly hard and may have made huge gains over the course of a school year. Their educators tapped into something that works. Their schools, serving a large percentage of high-needs students, may be on to something.

This is where the new “Academic Growth” indicator for the CORE Data Collaborative can be especially useful: it gives as clear a picture as we have of the impact of the teaching at a school. Who the students are and the schools they attend matters less. Only how much progress they have made compared to their peers.

“I love the growth point because it compares our progress to the progress made by similar students in similar schools,” Urban Montessori Head of School Krishna Feeney says. “That is something that is easier to digest for families. It’s like, ‘We were here and this is how much we’ve grown in each of these areas compared to similar students in similar schools.’ And that is something our community is asking for.”

Urban Montessori is a locally grown Oakland public school and one of 27 Oakland charter schools that participate in the CORE Data Collaborative (all 87 district-run schools participate). CORE began in 2010 when California’s large, urban school districts came together around new academic standards and training for teachers and administrators.

The collaborative, which includes the school districts of Oakland, Fresno, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Francisco and Santa Ana, secured a waiver from No Child Left Behind regulations in 2013 to evaluate schools on more than just test scores.

The more holistic way schools are evaluated through CORE includes data on student-level academic growth, high school readiness, students’ social-emotional skills and schools’ culture-climate (which is taken through surveys administered to students, teachers and families). CORE data also includes traditional measures of test scores, graduation rates and absenteeism also found in the Oakland Public School Report Card and California School Dashboard. CORE then provides an index of similar schools in terms of proficiency and growth for which to compare.

Urban Montessori Charter School students (photo by Tai Power Seef)

The kind of data CORE provides is especially useful for a school like Urban Montessori which uses a non-traditional school model. For example, Montessori philosophy stresses the importance of three-year cycles (same classroom environment for three years rather than one), which doesn’t exactly line up with California’s standardized test-every-year system.

Feeney said an especially exciting piece of the CORE data for the Urban school community was seeing a huge jump in the growth data for its new middle school students (this is the first year Urban has had an 8th grade class). The students now in middle school began at Urban on Day 1 of the school and have been through two three-year cycles: 1st-3rd grade and of 4th-6th grade.

“It’s making us wonder and hope — we don’t have enough data yet to say it outright — once we’re hitting middle school, it’s all falling into place,” Feeney says. “Those kids who are now in middle school have been here since Year 1, and they’re able to bring it together and demonstrate that on a state test even better than our younger students.”

CORE data is shared with school administrators and is not publically-available, so it’s up to Feeney and Urban staff to make sure the school community is aware of what this data is saying. Feeney has shared the data with the board, presenting charts, graphs and trends to the board’s academic committee and full board. Part of that is explaining the growth model and how it’s different from “status” and “change.”

“Our work is to be asking questions and hold the school accountable for learning, bringing back lessons and strategies that are working,” says Greg Klein, the Urban Montessori Board Chairperson. “As a board member, we care about a lot of data points: we want to know the status and percent of students who got all the way to grade level standards, and we want to know that broken down by subgroup. We also want to know how that has changed year over year. And the third part of understanding how the school is doing is growth.”

Growth, Klein says, is especially important. “The way that I think about growth is as a leading indicator,” he says. “Multiple years of high, above-average growth is ultimately going to move the needle on percent proficient.”

Feeney says that because the data is so new, the school is figuring out how best to use it. “It’s really useful and interesting for me to go through and compare ourselves to other similar schools,” she says, “and it’s on my radar to find ways to connect and figure out what they’re doing and how they’re using the data.” She would like to empower educators and the school community to interact with the data, too.

“For me, I’m continuing to figure out how to use the information to share with the community something that shows where we started and where we’re going,” she says.