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Test scores don’t show success, educators say

by Evie Blad | February 10, 2012 at 4:25 a.m.

— The success of a school should be measured in how well it prepares students to complete college, not just in test scores and high school graduation rates, a group of educators said at a conference Thursday.

“I think the story needs to be told that our kids need to be in college and that they need our help to get there,” said Amy Charpentier, director of the KIPP Through College program at KIPP Delta Public Schools.

KIPP teachers and administrators held a conference in North Little Rock to explain their techniques for boosting academic achievement, college admissions and eventual college graduation for their students. Many of those students are poor, and many are the first in their families to attend college.

The schools funded the conference for public school district teachers and administrators using a $25,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Education.

“We want to change some of the dialogue about how we hold ourselves accountable as schools,” KIPP Delta Executive Director Scott Shirey said.

That means schools should help students address issues that may hinder academic success, such as a lack of support outside of school or a lack of exposure to college, he said.

KIPP Delta Public Schools, located in Helena-West Helena and Blytheville, are a cluster of four open-enrollment charter schools that are connected to a national network of KIPP schools. KIPP stands for Knowledge is Power Program.

Open-enrollment charter schools are public schools run by nonprofit organizations other than traditional school districts. They operate according to terms of their charters, or contracts, with the state Board of Education.

Those agreements allow the schools to operate differently than traditional public schools, loosening requirements in areas such as teacher certification or length of school day.

“One of our purposes is to practice new techniques and to share those techniques,” Shirey said.

Those techniques include using students’ test scores to monitor their needs in the classroom, teaching in smaller class sizes, using technology in the classroom and hiring staff members who help students locate and enroll in a college.

“What’s particularly troubling for kids in the Arkansas Delta is that they live in a state with one of the lowest [college] graduation rates. Period,” Charpentier said.

Of 11,497 Arkansas students who started a four-year college in the state for the first time in 2004, 37.8 percent had earned a degree six years later, according to the most recent data available from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

Charpentier and her colleagues said their aim is to break that trend by helping students secure financial aid, taking them on dozens of campus visits and mentoring them in college until they earn a degree.

All of KIPP’s 2011 graduates entered a two-year or four-year college, with the exception of three students who joined the military, she said.

And helping them graduate means visiting them on campus, calling them every two weeks and asking them to waive their federal student privacy rights so that they can talk to financial aid advisers and professors, providing the support they need to finish, Charpentier said.

“The unfortunate reality is, for most of these kids, getting into college is easier than staying or graduating,” she said.

Arkansas, Pages 12 on 02/10/2012

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