Link Community Charter School, a grade 5 through 8 middle school in Newark, has demonstrated tremendous academic growth over the past three years as evidenced by student PARCC assessment scores. Link’s growth outpaced district and state averages and results outperformed in many areas, with the most impressive results in English Language Arts (ELA). Link’s PARCC assessment results confirm a strong upward academic trajectory for students who typically arrive to Link well below grade level in the 5th grade.
As for growth, school-wide scores have improved greatly from 2014-2015, the year the statewide PARCC assessment was implemented. The percentage of Link students scoring at the ”met expectations” (Level 4) and “exceeds expectations” (Level 5) in ELA have more than doubled in three years, while the sending districts and state percentages have grown by a few points. In math, the number of Link students scoring at Level 4 or 5 has almost tripled in grades 5, 6 and 8. Again, district and state scores have risen to a much lesser degree. The growth is impressive, but so is the fact that Link outperformed its sending districts in ELA (all grades) and math in grades 5, 6, and 8 in the spring 2017 administration of the PARCC assessment. Additionally, Link scores exceeded the state in 7th and 8th grade ELA and 8th grade math.
Maria Pilar Paradiso, Link’s head of school, attributes the impressive improvement in scores over three years to “a rigorous curriculum and dedicated support for teachers, a committed faculty and staff, and an overall school environment that reinforces high expectations and a positive growth mindset.” ELA scores have risen as a result of the emphasis that the school intentionally placed on literacy beginning in 2014-2015. School leadership determined that, while both ELA and math instruction were both critical given the significant achievement gap demonstrated by the incoming 5th grade in the fall of 2014, literacy had a broader reach in terms of academic development. A literacy initiative was then started in January of 2015. Students have benefited from the school’s plan: adoption of a rigorous, standards-aligned curriculum (Readers and Writers Project/Units of Study out of Teachers College) more typically used in early elementary grades; hiring a literacy coach to train teachers in delivering a strong balanced literacy program; and a school-wide push for reading. Student PARCC ELA scores are a testimony to the school’s rigor in literacy. “We are clearly closing the achievement gap,” says Paradiso, “with 62.9%% of students in the 7th grade scoring a 4 or 5 and 61.3%% of students in the 8th grade scoring a 4 or 5 on the 2017 PARCC ELA assessment. “
While work continues to strengthen literacy skills, Link has now set its sights on closing the math achievement gap. Math is an area of challenge statewide, but by intentionally addressing this curricular area with rigorous programming, Link knows its students can meet and exceed grade level expectations. “We are already implementing strong programs, including using EngageNY math, the Eureka Math curriculum, for instruction and a math specialist to support teachers as they transition to this program. The use of manipulatives and data is likewise bolstering the math program. While Link students outperformed its districts of residence in math in all grades but the 7th in 2016-2017, they under performed the state averages in all but 8th grade. There is significant room for growth, and Link’s math specialist and instructional leader, Callie Campbell, expects “to see an upward trajectory in student math scores as a result, even in as short a period of time as one year.”