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Focus on Assessments Fuels Rocketship's Goals

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Test scores are very important to Rocketship Education, a cluster of three charter schools in San Jose, California.

One of Rocketship's biggest points of pride is the high API score at its flagship school, Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary in San Jose, where 91% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Rocketship scored 925, the same as the average of Palo Alto School District, a much more affluent community nearby.

But that’s not the only score the network focuses on. Rocketship assesses students every eight weeks to make sure they’re on track. “Because we test them so frequently, we have information gradually, so we can put interventions in place to make sure they get to their big goal at the end of the year,” says Jaclyn Vargas, a literacy teacher at Rocketship. “It’s not like we only test them in September and in June, and say, ‘Why didn’t they meet that goal?’”

For Vargas, this kind of data-driven instruction balances long-term vision with shorter, day-to-day planning, objective-driven goals.

“This is how will we truly know if we’re meeting standards and serving our students to the best of our ability,” she says.  “It allows me to plan more strategically, we’re more invested as teachers and we invest students at a higher level because they know what they’re reaching for by end of year.”


The school is now in the throes of piloting a teacher’s dashboard of sorts, using software that helps teachers keep track of students’ progress in the Learning Lab, where they use adaptive computer programs to practice what they’ve learned in class.

Getting this information to teachers is crucial, says Judith McGarry, Rocketship’s spokesperson, because it helps them tailor each student’s individual learning plan. It might, for example, shift a student’s focus one week from spelling to multiplication, depending on where the student was stuck at any given moment.

Here’s what that looks like:


Each student’s scores on the computer programs – whether it’s math or literacy -- is calculated across a continuum so teachers can track progress. What’s more, the software also indicates to the teacher which level to place the student for each Learning Lab program.

The exact impact the Learning Lab has on student achievement has not yet been measured scientifically. So Rocketship hired S.R.I. International to conduct a quantitative study that demonstrates the effect of the Learning Lab on students’ mastery of basic skills.

“We think that the Learning Lab has a huge impact on their ability to master basic skills,” McGarry said. “But it’s not good enough for us to just say we know anecdotally it’s working.”

In addition to working on adaptive computer programs, it must be noted that the school also emphasizes critical thinking skills. In each class, a series of signs hangs from the ceilings and walls, asking questions like: “Why do we need to know this?” and “How can we prove it?” and “How might things have been different, if …”


Motivating Rocketeers to do well on tests is a priority at the Rocketship Mateo Sheedy campus, as evidenced by the signs that hang from classrooms and across the school. Hand-written and printed signs read “90% of students will score 90% (or higher)”; “Shoot for 950” in reference to current the 925 API score; and “Beat the Test.”

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It’s all part of what McGarry and teachers say the school setting high expectations for students.

Tiffany Gee, a math teacher at Rocketship, says that’s what makes the school different from the other schools she taught.

“It’s a lot more goal oriented here,” she says. “The expectations are high for our students.”