Top Stories 2 |18 | 2014

BY PETER MEYER | A new KIPP study has mixed results and Rick Hess calls for a “course correction” on testing


New KIPP Study: Results are Mixed

The headline on this What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) report suggests that a Mathematica study of KIPP charter schools showed “achievement advantages” for KIPP middle school students, but on closer inspection the results are not unstintingly positive.

In the “quasi-experimental” part of the study – in which some 16,000 students in 41 KIPP middle schools were matched with students with similar demographics in non-KIPP public middle schools in the same district – Mathematica found “positive and statistically significant impacts” on KIPP students in both math and reading.  But in the “experimental” portion of the study – a randomized control trial in which students who won the lottery to attend one of 13 KIPP middle schools were compared to students who had lost the lottery and gone on to regular public schools – the KIPP students scored “significantly higher” on math, but showed no “statistically significant differences” in reading.

These results were similar to scores registered by other charter schools, according to a New York Times report last year. At an Uncommon Schools middle school in Troy, NY, for instance, the Times reported that 100 percent of the school’s  seventh graders scored at a level of proficient or advanced on state standardized math tests, while just over half were proficient in reading.

“The results are similar across the 31 other schools in the Uncommon Schools network,” wrote reporter Motoko Rich.  Eighty-six percent of Uncommon students score at a proficient or advanced level in math, “while only about two thirds reach those levels in reading over the same period.” The differences between math and reading scores, as the Mathematica study suggests, were found in other charter networks as well, said Rich.

While the Times drew attention to the anomaly and queried several educators about the reasons for the different results, the new Mathematica results should provide more incentive to educators, even successful ones, to devote  more attention to the problems of reading.


Rick Hess Urges a Course Correction on Testing in NYC

While it is too early for new Mayor Bill de Blasio and his new chancellor Carmen Farina to have made good on Farina’s promise to “do everything in our power to reduce the focus on high-stakes testing,” the AEI’s Rick Hess is taking no chances.  “This strident stance is misguided,” he says, “and likely to yield unfortunate results.”

It is hard to imagine any competent educator in the 21st century advocating a no-testing regime, but de Blasio certainly talked tough against testing during the mayoral campaign, vowing, for instance, to eliminate the school grading system that his predecessor installed.

Hess, however, gives de Blasio and Farina credit for having “tapped into real concerns and raised valid criticisms,” and he faults many reformers for “tak[ing] a common-sense intuition and push[ing] it with such reflexive enthusiasm that they’ve created a caricature.”  He also faults them for their “habit of leaning heavily on federal pressure,” notably No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Hess is on the leading edge of what has become a major split in the reform movement – notably, over the Common Core State Standards – but it may make sense, as he suggests here, that reformers “pick themselves up, regain their bearings and view the de Blasio-Farina era as a grand chance for a course correction.”

Comments on this Post

  1. Morningside uses Robert Dixon’s “Reading Success.”

    Dixon teaches students an algorithm for determining the main idea of a passage. In a nutshell, students first count the nouns, pronouns, and anaphora in a passage. (Pronouns are a kind of anaphora, obviously).

    Then they decide what the main idea is based on which topic is named most frequently.

    I see I’ve misdefined ‘anaphora’ in my earlier comment. It’s right as far as it goes, but ‘anaphora’ in the sense Dixon uses the term means a word or expression that refers to something else in the text. Anaphora have an antecedent, either stated or implied; sometimes they refer forward to things yet to come.

    Phrases such as “the latter” and “the former” are examples of anaphora.

    I wrote a few posts about anaphora & reading for Kitchen Table Math ( and for my class blog (

  2. We’ve known this (math v. reading gains) for quite a while, haven’t we? I’m pretty sure I recall Hirsch commenting on it.

    The great charter schools send math scores through the roof but barely make a dent in reading.

    The Uncommon Schools network needs to pow-wow with Morningside Academy in Seattle. Morningside gets two years’ gains in reading scores in one year’s time.

    Morningside uses the ITBS as its measurement tool, the same test KIPP uses, I think.

    Morningside’s secret: they teach “anaphora” to fluency. (Anaphora are the words & expressions whose meaning you can find only in the text. You can’t look them up.) No one else does that…no one else except me. I now do it with my freshman composition students (I attended Morningside’s Summer Institute the summer before last, and I’ve been teaching anaphora ever since).

    I find that my students don’t know how to read anaphora. And they seem to love finding out that a) anaphora exist and b) they are a major category in any academic text.

    In fact, my students seem to like the word itself; often they’ll bring the word up independently, pointing to anaphora in whatever text we happen to be reading at the time. They’ve also found anaphora I missed.

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