FOR years, KIPP Reach College Preparatory in Oklahoma City has been one of Oklahoma's best schools while serving low-income students from the urban core. A new study of Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) schools nationwide shows KIPP Reach is not an anomaly.
The independent review conducted by Mathematica Policy Research found KIPP middle schools “have significant and substantial positive impacts on student achievement.” Mathematica found that attending a KIPP school for three years produced the equivalent of 11 months of additional learning growth in math “over and above what the student would have learned” elsewhere. In reading, students gained eight months of additional learning growth; in science, 14 months; and in social studies, 11 months.
Mathematica determined gains weren't the result of “teaching to the test” or of student-selection methods. The report noted, “For most identifiable characteristics, the students entering KIPP schools look much like other students in their neighborhoods: low-achieving, low-income and non-white.” The study also found results weren't skewed by driving out poor performers, noting the proportion of students who transfer before eighth grade “is identical at KIPP and non-KIPP district schools.”
Dave Levin, co-founder of KIPP, notes the schools' success is built on a foundation of data-driven accountability. Given the results, you might think other schools would emulate KIPP. Sadly, the continued opposition of some Oklahoma school administrators to basic standards — graduation requirements, third-grade reading proficiency requirements, A-F grading of schools — suggests otherwise.
At KIPP Reach, all students are tested to assess academic preparation. The results are shocking. Tracy McDaniel, principal of KIPP Reach, says 75 percent of students enter the school two and three grade levels behind in reading and math. McDaniel said this often surprises the students and their families — because the child previously received As and Bs at other schools.
“The kids are coming in thinking they are on grade level or above,” McDaniel said, “and they're below.”
The problem of grade inflation and social promotion was obvious in the debate over high school graduation standards. Last year, some students claimed to have a grade-point average as high as 3.6 — yet couldn't pass four of seven tests to prove proficiency. And students could miss up to half the questions on some of those tests and still pass.
The problem also is apparent in the debate over a new law requiring third-grade reading proficiency before advancing. The Oklahoma Policy Institute notes a statewide survey of school superintendents found 78 percent of districts expect retentions to increase as a result. This data makes clear that grade inflation and social promotion are widespread problems in Oklahoma schools.
But not at KIPP schools, which Mathematica concluded are “consistently more likely than local district schools to have students repeat a grade.” At KIPP schools, administrators and teachers are held accountable for student results. At KIPP retreats, every school leader's results — including student-level data on school completion, reading, math, attendance, suspension and more — can be reviewed by all.
Compare that approach with the response of many Oklahoma administrators when their results were publicized through A-F grading of schools. They described the grades as unfair and punitive — even though just nine of 1,744 sites received an F.
Mathematica's findings make clear KIPP's educational model works, benefiting children from the most challenging backgrounds. It's time other school officials embraced KIPP's methods, instead of railing against success.