(NOTE: As the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) goals continue to accelerate, more and more US schools will be categorized by the pejorative brand: “Program Improvement School”. NCLB’s kiss of death. By 2014 as many as 90% of America’s schools could be categorized as underperforming “Program Improvement” schools. Perhaps it provides a handy label for politicians to rail on public education in general… but inside our schools, where we know our children’s names and faces, it is a different story.
This is the FIFTH POST IN A SERIES as Mueller Charter School awaits its test results from the 2007-08 school year. Look for the SERIES every Monday as we get our results, assess the trends, and make strategic adjustments for the coming year.)
Our data came in and when I shared our API there was a noticeable gasp across the room.
We have been waiting for weeks for these results. We have been waiting for years. In fact, nine years ago we challenged one another to stay at Mueller Charter School and work toward the goal of getting 90% of our children tp grade level. At the time we were one of the lowest performing schools in a corner of San Diego that was not so high performing.
90%. Like the “90-90-90 schools” where 90% were children of color, 90% qualified for free or reduced lunch and 90% were at grade level. And even though being “at grade level” means different things in different states and is considerably harder to achieve in places like California… we knew this was a tangible, measurable manifestation of the concept of organizational excellence. So we jumped in.
Over the past 8 years our scores have risen. Whatever anyone else may choose to read into our results, we always knew this… if 90% of our students perform at grade level their lives will be enriched and the community will be transformed. And we will have accomplished what no other school could accomplish: we will have overcome the effects of poverty on learning, overcome the challenges of acquiring English as a second language, and overcome the natural mobility that occurs in this low income area in Chula Vista.
Easier said than done. Teachers have come and gone but the mission has remained the same. So when the data came in and I shared it on Friday… there was that gasp.
We knew we could not go from having 18% of our kids at grade level to 90% over night. We knew, in fact, it would take years. So each year we work, we innovate, we adjust, we push, we reflect, we research… we assess our students and we agonize over the heartbreaking results. Always five steps forward, three steps back.
We had to build on our success and failures and set achievable benchmarks. So two years ago we started a campaign that was captured in the phrase “Imagine 801”… as in… imagine a school-wide Academic Performance Index of 801. At the time our API was 733.
By the end of that year we were able to bump it up to 751 but there was tremendous disappointment that with all of our efforts we were still barely moving the needle.
So we focused again on achieving an Academic Performance Index of 801.
One Wednesday we crunched our test results into the API worksheet that can be found on the California Department of Education website. We knew our results looked pretty good across the grade levels. As we clicked on the last number, the result was 796. When the state applies its “filters” it has historically resulted in 5 more points. And when you add 5 more points… the result is 801!
And in between the cheers and applause and tears of amazement, there was a gasp. “It’s the Law of Attraction,” someone said and we all turned to Ryan Santos. “Our collective thoughts…” he said… and everyone in the room finished his sentence.
And there was the spooky realization that while we are still a long ways away from getting 90%of our students to grade level, the fact that we could envision 801 and work to achieve it as a school—meant that getting to 90% was now inevitable. 90%. Think about it. The Law of Attraction.
We have climbed to the last ledge of a high mountain peak, close enough now to see the summit. At this point in a long and sometimes perilous journey, there is just enough time to celebrate, and gasp, and then hitch up our gear for the final ascent.