Leveraging Data and Lighting Fires

By Dustin Wood, School Leader, KIPP Journey Academy

Meet Steve.

Steve is a kid I’ll never forget. And you’ve heard it before, you yourself even have tens – if not hundreds – of kids you’ll never forget. I met Steve early in my teaching career – after two years of teaching experience with Teach For America and just a few months experience teaching at KIPP.  Even though I always believed it to be true, Steve helped me find truth in the phrase “all of us will learn.” Steve’s story speaks to the power of the possible.

Steve, his sister Georgina, and their father at KIPP School Summit 2012 after accepting the Doris Fisher KIPPster of the Year Award.

Steve immigrated to the United States from Ghana in 2007 and started his journey with KIPP shortly thereafter in 2008. He came to KIPP Journey without a solid grasp of English and tested in the basement of his peers nationally.

In 2009, as a KIPP sixth grader, Steve completed the fall MAP assessment and was placed in the first percentile nationally in Reading. In what was perhaps a flawed definition, I simply told him that for every 100 students who took the same test, 99 would beat him. His face tightened and I was quite sure I had really messed something up.

But I hadn’t really met Steve.

The conversation lit a fire for Steve like I had never seen in a child. Steve burned through work faster than most of us could keep assignments and tasks coming off the copier. I told Steve about an online resource, Study Island, where he could go home and continue working on concepts online. Many students did a handful of problems, some impressively did a few hundred problems on their own, and then there was Steve. Steve independently completed more than 2,400 additional problems.

All of this helps to highlight for me two behind the scenes pieces that help many of our students like Steve prove what’s possible:


1. Empowering Students to Know and Own Their Data

Steve isn’t the only student who benefits from hearing about his progress. The more data our kids know about their school work, the more they can do with it and be motivated by it. We share data whenever possible with our students, whether it be through conferencing or sharing MAP, interim, and unit data. We want our students to know what they have mastered, articulate their areas of growth, and set goals based on hard data.

While we aren’t fully satisfied with our specific results, we can clearly see that as we improve in empowering kids with data, so do our students’ results.

Both the school-wide Performance Index and the founding classes’ proficiency increased significantly over a four-year period. Much of that success, we attribute to collecting, analyzing, and finding ways to empower our entire team with data.


2. Don’t Underestimate Our Kids’ Intrinsic Fire (and Addiction to Technology!)

Steve really did complete thousands of practice problems online. It wasn’t homework, it wasn’t mandated, it was just made available. Leveraging technology like i-Ready, IXL, Study Island, and Khan Academy have allowed our students more personalized work and nearly limitless opportunity to extend their learning.

Last year, our sixth grade Math teacher Aaron Epting leveraged IXL for practice and extension work within his Math classroom. As they progressed, IXL would send certificates to Aaron about how many problems his students had completed to date. By the end of the year, the last certificate I observed hanging above the board recognized his class for completing more than 50,000 problems in a year.

Aaron’s students didn’t achieve by accident. They achieved through carefully laid plans and masterful instruction. However, there is also a power in providing resources to the kids, tapping into their built-in love of technology, and letting go. Aaron let our students work and work they did. Their individual pathways and goals – 50,000 problems later – led to growth gains among the highest in the KIPP network.


This past summer, Steve’s day-to-day journey with KIPP concluded with his promotion to high school. In August, Steve took his second plane ride since immigrating to the United States to head to Orlando, Florida. This trip, as a beautiful bookend to his KIPP career, was for recognition as one of the 2012 Doris Fisher KIPPster of the Year award winners. After all that, it’s really not surprising that he was offered a scholarship to a prestigious, all-boys private high school here in Columbus.

After his first quarter in high school, Steve has a 4.0.

Meet Steve. Proof of what’s possible.


To learn more about results at KIPP, click here >