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In today's paper, I report about KIPP's proposal to open a new charter elementary school in Baltimore in 2009. KIPP -- the acclaimed Knowledge is Power Program, which runs one of Maryland's top middle schools with poor city kids -- already had approval to open a second middle school next year. But the school management network is changing plans after analyzing the declining preparation levels of the incoming fifth-graders at the existing middle school. (KIPP Ujima Village Academy in West Baltimore serves fifth through eighth grades.)

KIPP administers the Stanford 9 standardized test to students as they enter fifth grade. In 2003, the incoming fifth-graders scored at the 30th percentile in reading, the 38th percentile in math and the 32nd percentile in language. In 2007, when the incoming fifth-grade class was tested, those scores had declined to the 16th percentile in reading, the 19th percentile in math and the 15th percentile in language. Every year, the students have come less prepared than the class before.

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I asked Jason Botel, executive director of KIPP Baltimore, why he thinks that is. He doesn't know for sure, but he has two theories. One is that elementary schools are spending so much time and emphasis preparing students for the Maryland School Assessments that they aren't teaching them other basic skills that would be measured on a test like the Stanford 9. A second theory is that parents of needier students are choosing to send their kids to a charter school because the traditional public schools aren't working for them.

In any case, KIPP believes it needs to get students younger so there's less ground to make up when they arrive in middle school.

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