February 06, 2013 19:57 Age: 5 yrs

An Unwavering Focus on Student Achievement

Category: News, Home, Doug McCurry
By: Doug McCurry

Before No Child Left Behind, the discussion about equity in schools most often focused on inputs: per-pupil funding, class size, student-to-teacher ratios, books per student, computers per student, square feet of facility per student, average years of experience per teacher, percentage of certified teachers, and so on. Books about school reform, most notably Jonathan Kozol's classic, Savage Inequalities, focused on stories of crumbling urban schools and the funding disparities between urban and suburban schools. In some areas, such “savage inequalities” between urban and suburban districts exist, but too often urban districts hide behind input issues to excuse indefensibly low student achievement scores.

The urban schools that have closed the achievement gap have all spent the same or less money than their host districts and almost always have larger class sizes, less glorious facilities, fewer computers, fewer library books and less experienced teachers than the other schools in the city where they are located. However, because these schools focus exclusively on one output, student achievement, their students achieve test scores that often double or triple the average scores of other students in their districts.

What does this mean for Achievement First? Our name, Achievement First, was consciously selected to constantly reinforce our unwavering focus on producing dramatic, life-changing student achievement. Furthermore, the entire focus of Achievement First teachers and leaders is on outputs. In addition to first focusing on student achievement, with dramatic progress on state assessments as our primary measure, AF also considers the following output metrics: high student attendance (we expect 97 percent daily attendance or greater), low student turnover (we expect 5 percent or less yearly), college acceptance rates (we expect 100 percent of our high school graduates to be accepted to college), and college graduation rates (we expect 75 percent of our alumni to graduate from college).

Achievement First sets clear output goals for each school. At the minimum, schools are expected to close the achievement gap, earning test scores that surpass the state’s average and drive student achievement gains, increasing achievement by at least 5 national percentiles. These are the expectations in every subject, at every grade level and in each school year.