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Rocketeers Beat the Odds on California State Assessment

This month, California released results of the new Smarter Balanced Assessment System. The first year of this more rigorous assessment exposes the severity of the achievement gap in California. But it also shows that our Rocketeers continue to beat the odds with strong academic achievement.

99thAt Rocketship, we explicitly aim to serve low income communities. Nearly nine out of ten Rocketeers are socioeconomically disadvantaged. We are proud to report that among California elementary school districts serving primarily socioeconomically disadvantaged students, Rocketship ranks in the 99th percentile for math and 86th percentile for English Language Arts.

While we are proud of our students and teachers, the statewide data on California public schools is sobering. Despite decades of efforts, socioeconomically disadvantaged students are still unjustly left behind. Just 22% of economically disadvantaged students in California meet the new standard in math; only 27% in English Language Arts. In the districts where we operate in San Jose, the picture is equally bleak. Simply put, about three of four disadvantaged kids are not on track for college.

Our kids, families and communities deserve better. This new data reaffirms the critical urgency of Rocketship’s mission and the movement we are building. It also shows that our Rocketeers are beating the odds.


In math, 46% of our socioeconomically disadvantaged students are on a college-bound path. This is a huge accomplishment – twice as many Rocketeers scored on grade level compared to disadvantaged students in neighboring district schools (23%). This is what gap-closing performance looks like.

In English Language Arts, 33% of our socioeconomically disadvantaged students meet the new standard, compared to 29% in local districts. While we are encouraged that more of our students are on the right path, we know we must do better.

It’s important to emphasize that this is a new test. We cannot make any meaningful comparison to previous years. To borrow a line from State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, “it’s like comparing apples to watermelons.” The new state assessment, aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), sets a much higher bar, adding rigor and critical thinking to students’ learning goals with new standards calibrated to college and career readiness.

At Rocketship, we firmly believe that Common Core is a better standard for our students that is more clearly aligned with our mission and model. Over the past three years we have diligently prepared for this more rigorous assessment. While no test can ever holistically measure student success, California’s new assessment arms us with a strong understanding of our students’ math and literacy levels. And as we continue to implement robust professional development to calibrate our instruction to the new standard, I’m confident we will get more Rocketeers on-track with language and literacy skills and continue to improve upon our already impressive math results.

When our ultimate goal is to eliminate the achievement gap in our lifetime, anything short of that can feel unsatisfying. And this new assessment clearly shows, we can do better – and we will. But this data also demonstrates that few schools in California do better than Rocketship when it comes to serving socio-economically disadvantaged kids. We are proud of our progress and the difference we are making in the lives of over 7,000 Rocketeers across the country. However, being a “better” school isn’t our benchmark. We won’t rest until every single Rocketeer is on a college-bound path.

Together, we are building a robust network of schools that are improving student outcomes, deeply engaging parents and transforming communities. Together, we can eliminate the achievement gap in our lifetime.

Preston co-founded Rocketship Education in San Jose in 2006. Prior to founding Rocketship, Preston was founder and Principal of L.U.C.H.A. Elementary School, part of the Alum Rock Unified School District in San Jose, CA. After its first three years of operation, L.U.C.H.A. was the fourth highest performing low-income elementary school in California. Preston began his career in education as a Teach for America (TFA) Corps member at Clyde Arbuckle Elementary School (CA). In 2003, Preston was named “Teacher of the Year” at Arbuckle and was also nominated as one of six finalists for TFA’s Sue Lehmann award, given to TFA corps members with the highest classroom academic gains in the nation. Preston is also an Aspen New Schools Fellow.

Follow Preston on Twitter: @prestondsmith 

Published on September 24, 2015