Just over four years ago, Thrive Public Schools received a charter from the state of California for their mission to meet individual students where they are and help them meet high expectations for success. They started with 45 kids and now, in their fifth school year, serve nearly 1,000 students across four schools.
Thrive educators focus on personalized learning and project-based learning to meet the needs of their diverse learners. Students at Thrive Public Schools come from 45 zip codes around San Diego, and they are “diverse by design,” as Kacie Desmond, Director of Philanthropy & External Relations, states.
In addition, educators at Thrive serve a student population that is 18 percent special needs, nearly twice the school average in California, with an additional 2 percent having 504 plans. And 80 percent of Thrive students come to the school behind on grade-level performance in reading, math, or both. As Desmond notes, “Something was not working for these kids at their previous schools.”
Thrive parent Wilhemina Bradley articulates the challenge of finding the right educational setting for her son in a moving article in The 74. Bullied for having special needs at his former school, Bradley’s son has found a safe and supportive learning environment at Thrive.
But like every charter school, their charter has to be renewed every five years, and so far, Thrive is facing an uphill battle. Part of the challenge? Only their students’ scores on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), the California state summative test, are being considered.
According to Desmond, Thrive administrators use “multiple measures” to monitor student progress—one of which is the MAP Growth assessment, designed to capture learning growth across grade levels, as opposed to grade-level proficiency. Thrive uses MAP Growth to evaluate academic programs (reading and math, specifically) and work to improve instruction and mastery of the Common Core state standards.
Thrive educators point out that many other schools in the San Diego community—and nationally—also use MAP Growth scores to report on their students’ growth and performance.
MAP Growth scores reveal that in the 2016-17 school year, Thrive students achieved more than the average amount of expected growth across every grade level in reading. And in the 2017-18 school year, Thrive kindergartners’ MAP scores ranked in the top 5 percent in reading and the top 9 percent in math, according to NWEA national norms, even though they started the year in the 70th and 51st percentiles, respectively.
The MAP scores are strong evidence of Thrive educators’ ability to accelerate academic growth so students can advance along the pathway to proficiency. Desmond says that MAP Growth data illustrates the positive impact the school is having on students.
She explains, “We keep saying, ‘Look at this data. Look at the whole picture.’ It’s not sufficient to only look at proficiency when measuring the success of a school—especially when new students are coming to us behind grade level; we really need to be looking at the growth that these students are showing, as well.”
Thrive educators, parents, and community members are making their case before the California State Board of Education that while proficiency is important, growth measures should also be taken into account. A lot hangs in the balance for Thrive students, who need the continued opportunity to grow so they can reach their highest potential.
“There’s really no other school like Thrive,” Desmond says. “We take students from all backgrounds and abilities, many of whom are just getting to Thrive, and it’s hard to find similar schools to compare us against.”
To learn more about Thrive Public Schools, check out their website or this video about their founder.