Promising Practices in APS: KIPP Middle Schools
Evidence of Success
All three APS KIPP middle schools consistently have test scores well above the district trend line (with respect to poverty level). Also, because the schools start in fifth grade, we can see that their incoming students have scores similar to the average APS student, but then see rapid growth while enrolled at KIPP. This is consistent with national studies using lottery data that show students at KIPP schools experience a high rate of learning even relative to peers who applied to KIPP schools but were not selected in the lottery process.
Like any high-performing system, KIPP does not have a single story for their success; they do many things very well. Below are some of the practices KIPP credits for their success.
Assessment and Data Use
KIPP uses the NWEA MAP (K-8) and the ACT suite (PLAN, Explore, ACT; 9-11) to assess students three times annually, as well as additional literacy assessment selected by the school. Results are used to track progress and drive instruction, as well as to track school performance by student quartiles.
Schools also administer common formative assessments throughout the year that are aligned to their common scope and sequence. Results are used to measure growth and inform supports for both students and teachers. Teachers also receive support for developing unit assessments and results are tracked regionally.
At KIPP we know that equipping students to be successful in top quality colleges and the competitive world beyond is about more than academic preparation, and we make character development a high priority. We focus on seven highly predictive strengths: zest, grit, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity. Through both planned programming and teacher focus on capitalizing on “teachable moments”, explicit opportunities for character development are infused throughout the school day and year.
Extended Instructional Time
KIPP students attend school 7:30-5:00 most weekdays, select Saturdays, and two additional weeks during the summer, resulting in approximately 40% more classroom time than traditional schedules.
KIPP staff does a home visit for any new student before the school year. At this home visit, a teacher signs a symbolic contract with the parent that if a parent commits to getting a student to school on-time, attending the extended instructional time, and checking their student’s homework for completion, then KIPP commits to getting that student to college. On top of the initial contact, KIPP teachers engage in frequent parent communication throughout the year.
KIPP recruits top quality teacher candidates from across the nation, cultivating teaching talent from school districts, charter networks and through partnerships with university partners and programs such as Teach For America and The New Teacher Project. Once applicants apply via an on-line application process, candidates go through phone interviews, sample lessons and rigorous panel interviews to determine if they possess the mindsets and skills associated with KIPP’s framework for excellent teaching.
Shared Services Team Support
KIPP Metro Atlanta’s shared services office serves its eight schools in both academic and operational support functions. The Academic Support Team helps schools achieve academic excellence by providing services and resources to ensure alignment across the K-12 spectrum, capturing and disseminating best practices and research, facilitating collaboration, creating a data-driven culture for continuous improvement, and providing leadership development to school leaders. Operationally, the shared services office handles common functions for schools in order to allow each school’s leadership to focus on academics. The operations team manages transportation, foodservice, building maintenance including janitorial services, security, IT support, special facilities and IT projects, contract compliance, and vendor relationships. The finance team manages budgeting, forecasting, banking relationships, financial statements, and the annual audit process. The Talent Strategy team leads the recruiting, payroll, and performance management process. The External Relations team supports schools by managing internal communication, media relations, and fundraising for the significant amount of school expenses not covered by public funding.
Beginning this year, KIPP will launch a comprehensive teacher development and recognition program called Teacher Pathways. Pathways aims to develop and retain KIPP’s excellent teachers through four performance management pillars: 1) Setting clear goals and expectations. 2) Providing coaching and development. 3) Providing ongoing feedback. 4) Rewarding Excellence. Teachers are coached and evaluated against KIPP’s framework of 50 behaviors of excellent teachers throughout the year. At the end of the year, eligible teachers will receive differentiated compensation, rewards and recognition based on student growth and their mastery of the 50 behaviors of excellent teachers.
The primary system of behavior management at KIPP is a positive behavior support system that is manifest through a “paycheck” with credits and deductions for behaviors. The paycheck approach empowers students to make appropriate choices so they will inherently and experientially learn that when they do good things, good things happen. The paycheck system reinforces school-wide expectations and promotes the internalization of each school’s values and culture. Students may earn “dollars” for appropriate actions in each of the school’s values. For instance, at one KIPP middle school, the three values rewarded are Family & Friendship, Responsibility, and Excellence.