School grades tumbled across Florida yesterday, but at least one high-poverty charter school pulled its grade up substantially despite the harder tests and tougher standards that sparked rants from critics.
KIPP Impact Middle School in Jacksonville, part of the nationally celebrated KIPP chain, moved from an F to a C in its second year of operation – and missed a B by three points. For a school that knew it fell short in year one, the new grade was a relief.
“The pressure was on. We knew we needed to do better not just for our school grade’s sake but our kids’ sake,” Tom Majdanics, the school’s executive director, told redefinED today. “Our students and parents and teachers worked very hard over the year, and ultimately we saw some results we can be proud of.”
Ninety-nine percent of the students at KIPP Impact Middle are African American; about 90 percent are eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch.
Even by Florida standards, it’s hard to imagine a school that felt more pressure to perform.
In fall 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan cut the ribbon at the school’s grand opening. In spring 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott used the school as a backdrop when he signed a bill that made sweeping changes to the teaching profession.
After all that, the F was a shocker.
“There are high expectations for every KIPP school, especially one that happens to be the first in the city of Jacksonville and the state of Florida,” Majdanics said. “We clearly didn’t meet those high expectations in the first year.”
The school worked hard last summer to recalibrate its strategies, he said. The result:
The percentage of sixth graders passing the state math test climbed from 31 to 69 percent; the percentage of those passing the state reading test rose from 23 to 40 percent. Again, this was in the face of tough, new academic standards – a higher bar that has helped spawn the biggest backlash yet against Florida’s accountabilty system.
For Jacksonville’s KIPP, relief is temporary. Nobody thinks a C is good enough. And, in KIPP’s book, even an A isn’t good enough if it doesn’t mean every student is prepared for a college-prep high school and on the path to college.
“We’re in the early innings of our work,” Majdanics said. “We aren’t resting.”
The school is expanding next year to add a seventh grade (currently it’s fifth and sixth grade). A KIPP elementary is also opening in Jacksonville, and will begin this fall with a kindergarten cohort.