One of the most innovative elementary schools in the country produced some of the strongest results in California’s state assessment system, and the takeaway for public schools across the nation may prove game-changing.
KIPP: Empower Academy, a public charter school a short walk from the Harbor Freeway in South Los Angeles, posted a score of 991 on the state’s 2013 Academic Performance Index – the highest score achieved in Los Angeles County this year and among the highest in California.
The school was founded as a charter school in 2010, joining the high-achieving KIPP national network. It began serving kindergarten students and is in the process of adding one grade each year through the fourth grade. More than 90 percent of the school’s students are eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program – 87 percent are African-American and 12 percent Latino.
In its first year with students eligible for standardized testing (California’s assessment system begins in second grade), 70 percent scored at the advanced level in English-Language Arts, with another 25 percent scoring proficient. In math, 82 percent scored at advanced levels, and 16 percent scored proficient.
The school is a national pioneer in blended learning, with technology integrated fully into classroom instruction. It uses a Classroom Rotation model where students move between sessions of teacher-led instruction, small group or self-paced work, and online learning. Children rotate through stations using different modes during each class period.
The model was created through consultation with Education Elements, a Silicon Valley-based firm which is widely regarded as the nation’s top blended learning architect. Its leaders note that the Classroom Rotation model works well within the constraints of a school’s existing architecture, while allowing for personalized instruction. Because the model doesn’t require significant changes to traditional classrooms, it is easier for any school to implement.
A powerful feature of blended learning programs such as KIPP: Empower’s is its use of data from students’ work to help teachers target instruction and interventions. Students receive instruction from a variety of adults, including lead teachers, designated intervention teachers, and instructional assistants.
As students work on different online content chosen strategically by school leaders, their progress via correct and incorrect responses is captured and provided in real-time to teachers in easily-accessed format. This valuable support allows teachers to effectively personalize learning to each child’s strengths and weaknesses.
As these latest outcomes demonstrate, the resulting instructional efficiency is proving to be a powerful tool in addressing achievement gaps rampant in most American public education, and especially in urban settings.