At Uplift Education, a public charter management organization serving nearly 16,000 Pre-K-12th scholars across the Dallas-Fort Worth region in predominately low-income communities, our scholars, teachers, and administrators are actively thinking about how we can insure strong levels of college readiness. While we are proud of our 100% four-year college acceptance, it is so important to realize that college persistence as well as college graduation rates are directly tied to each scholar’s level of academic readiness as well as their social emotional learning and non-cognitive factors such as grit, perseverance, and mindset. In terms of academic, we have the believe that college readiness measures are critical, even as early as kindergarten. When one thinks about the journey from kindergarten through middle school, the first nine years of formative education a scholar receives is critical, particularly in reading and math. We work hard to develop core reading and math in our kindergarten through 8th grade progression by implementing the Primary Years Program and Middle Years Program through IB and by looking at the data for these scholars in a disciplined manner at the teacher and school levels, as well as with individual scholars and their families.
What does the data tell us at a high level about how Uplift scholars are doing? Last time, we shared our ACT performance in this blog, and we had some exciting news this summer that our juniors finished the year with the highest ACT scores we have ever had, and are projected to average above a 22 (a score of a 21 is the college ready benchmark) by the end of senior year. However, in grades K to 8th, the data tells us some interesting trends that will help teachers and leaders better understand what is and is not working.
- Over the last four years, we have been looking at the relationship between two important assessments. In the state of Texas, all public schools take the STAAR test, and many districts and charter schools take the NWEA MAP assessment that scores individual scholars on a national percentile, and measures their growth relative to their national peers. Both of these assessments are incredibly useful, as they tell us their college readiness relative to our scholars local and national peers. These two assessments are very highly correlated, based on the work Uplift’s Data Analytics Team (DAT) has done, as well as the research we are an active part of with Harvard University’s Strategic Data Project at the Center for Public Education Research.
- While there has been a lot of dialogue locally and nationally, Uplift holds ourselves and our schools accountable to meet and exceed the standards that the state has defined for all students. Hence, making sure our scholars pass the STAAR reading and math assessments is critical, as well as the deep data study as to what it takes for a scholar to pass a state test. The data research of our 3rd to 8th graders at Uplift tells us that our students above the 60th percentiles on MAP pass the state test at incredibly high rates, from 91 to 100% depending on the grade level. That being said, students at national average, between the 40th and 60th percentiles pass the STAAR assessment at around at the 70 to 85% range. There is a pretty clear line if you want scholars to pass a state test – they need to be at our above national norm.
- Students below the 40th percentiles have much lower pass rates on the STAAR, anywhere from 15 to 50% in most tested areas. Here, we need to be realistic and focused, as it may take a student in the bottom 20% nationally in terms of reading or math a multiple years of accelerated growth.
- The reality is that each school has a unique distribution of students across the national percentile, and hence, their performance on state assessment are correlated with that. One unique data point is that in order to score an “advanced” on the state STAAR, you definitely need to be in the top 20% nationally in terms of reading and math. We found that around 60 to70 percent of scholars who score in the top 20% nationally on MAP meet the advanced scale score on the STAAR assessment. This is usually a great measure to judge whether a student is ready for a selective Tier 1 college or university.
There are some clear challenges in preparing all scholars for colleges and universities, especially when our goal is to send our scholars to those institutions that have high persistence and graduation rates from the demographics that Uplift schools serve. These challenges are evident in the data collected from the last few years from our Kindergarten to 8th grade scholars:
- We are starting to see a plateau in performance a scholar grows into the 60th Typically, we see higher levels of growth as well as a stronger percentage of scholars meeting their growth target if they are below national norm. We find that it is relatively challenging to move these students from the 60th to 80th percentile. When this is translated this to ACT scores, the types of colleges that you can get into drastically improve if they score in the top 20% of their national peer group. Additionally, Uplift would love to see an increase in the number of students who score “advanced” which is usually around 15 to 20% of our scholars – as this would let us know that they meet a bar of selective college readiness.
- Additionally, we want to accelerate the growth of low scholars more aggressively. In many low income communities, students come in with lower reading and math levels, hence, we want to have consecutive years of strong growth to vault a them into a range of national average, and then to the top quarter nationally within a two to four year window. This is incredibly hard to do, however, these scholars need that type of aggressive growth to become college ready and access more rigorous curriculum in high school
- We also need to monitor how our Hispanic and African American and socio-economically disadvantaged scholars are doing. While Uplift’s Hispanic and African American scholars perform stronger than their peer group across the state in these assessments, the reality is that these students need to perform at the level of their college-ready peers.
- Uplift has also invested time learning more about data, analytics, and predictive modeling in partnership with Harvard University’s Strategic Data Project at the Center for Public Education Research. Using data from MAP, as well as from our common assessments (these are assessments that are given at the end of every quarter in each content area K-12 across all of our schools), we were able to predict over 85% of our scholars scale score on STAAR. We want to harness this data model to inform more of what it would take to accelerate the growth and learning of key math and reading skills for our struggling learners, as well as those we want to accelerate to the higher bands of college readiness.
This school year is a very exciting time for Uplift Education, as over half of our primary and middle schools will start the year authorized through the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program and Middle Years Programme. Our scholars, parents, teachers, staff, and leadership have invested a lot of time and energy in planning around this rigorous curriculum, and we truly believe that this will help drive stronger levels of college readiness across our kindergarten through 8th grade progression, and meet the needs of all scholars as they head into high school and college.