In 1998, a group of New Haven founders came together with a clear goal in mind: to prove that urban students can achieve at the same high levels as their affluent suburban counterparts. Confronted by the popular attitude that demographics were destiny, we decided that the best way to address the problem was to change the system.
We set out to create a public charter school Amistad Academy that would enable its students to achieve at high levels. Over the last 10 years, Amistad Academy has produced Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) results that have shattered the notion that "those kids can't learn." For the past seven years, Amistad Academy students - 100 percent of whom are selected by blind lottery, 78 percent of whom receive free and reduced lunch and 98 percent of whom are African American or Hispanic - have beat state averages in reading and math, demonstrating that they can achieve on par with their wealthiest peers statewide.
In June 2003, we created a separate 501(c)3 non-profit, Achievement First, with the goal of using Amistad Academy's knowledge and best practices to have a greater impact. We opened the second school, Elm City College Preparatory, in 2004 and expanded the model to include elementary grades.
In fall 2005, under the leadership of New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, Achievement First expanded into Brooklyn. One of Klein's core reform strategies was to locate high-performing public charter schools in New York's lowest-performing districts. Achievement First opened two new schools in central Brooklyn - Achievement First Crown Heights Charter School and Achievement First East New York Charter School.
The Brooklyn network continued to grow in 2006 with the opening of Achievement First Bushwick Charter School and Achievement First Endeavor Charter School, followed in 2008 by Achievement First Brownsville. Thanks to changes in Connecticut charter law, we were also able to open Amistad Academy High School and Amistad Academy Elementary School, paving the way for Connecticut's first K to 12 public charter school. Achievement First's Connecticut network was able to expand into Bridgeport with a new middle school in 2007 and, in 2008, into Hartford with new elementary and middle schools.
Achievement First has grown into a network that includes 25 schools in five cities. In 1999, Amistad Academy opened with 84 fifth and sixth graders. Now, in the 2013-14 school year, Achievement First is serving 8,100 students in grades K to 12.
New York Student Achievement Highlights
Achievement First New York schools and students continue to outpace their statewide peers on achievement tests. On the 2012 state math assessment, 88 percent of our New York students achieved proficiency, compared to a 60 percent average proficiency rate in New York City and a 65 percent average proficiency rate across the state. In English Language Arts, 58 percent of Achievement First students achieved proficiency in 2012, compared with 47 percent of New York City students and 55 percent of students statewide.
Achievement First students are not only achieving higher proficiency rates than their peers, but their achievement is also increasing at a faster rate. The proportion of students in our Brooklyn schools reaching English Language Arts proficiency rose more than 20 percentage points since 2010 when the state increased standards, and math scores have increased by more than 18 percentage points. During the same time period, the statewide average increased by only 2 percentage points in English Language Arts and 4 percentage points in math.
Math remains an especially strong area for Achievement First. On the nationally recognized Terra Nova math assessment, kindergarten through second-grade students achieved, on average, at the 92nd percentile. Across Achievement First middle schools, 91 percent of our students achieved math proficiency, including 99 percent of eighth graders. On the eighth-grade math test, students outperformed their peers in Rye, New York, one of the wealthiest and highest-performing districts in the state.
Our elementary and middle schools have made substantial gains in reading, with seven of our eight New York schools posting improved scores. In the past two years, AF Bushwick Elementary improved reading scores by 30 percentage points, and AF Endeavor Middle improved reading scores by 22 percentage points.
Achievement First charters earned top grades on the New York City Department of Education 2012 Progress Reports, with four of five charters scoring in the top 15 percent of all New York City schools. AF Endeavor, AF Bushwick, AF Crown Heights and AF Brownsville each earned an A; AF East New York earned a B. AF Bushwick was the highest-scoring K-8 school in New York City on the Department of Education 2011-12 Progress Reports, scoring in the 100th percentile.
AF Crown Heights and AF Endeavor both scored in the 93rd percentile for all New York City schools, and AF Brownsville scored in the 86th percentile.
Connecticut Student Achievement Highlights
Achievement First students are excelling in early elementary math and reading. On the nationally normed Terra Nova math assessment, our kindergarten through second-grade students performed, on average, at the 90th percentile, meaning that our students math achievement averages are in the top 10 percent of all students nationwide. In reading at all four of our Connecticut elementary schools, an average of 90 percent of students in kindergarten through second grade achieved at or above proficiency on the nationally normed Fountas & Pinnell assessment.
It is often said that the best way to evaluate a school's impact is to look at the achievement of a group of students over time. At Achievement First's Connecticut middle schools, the percentage of students at or above goal on the Connecticut Mastery Test doubled from fourth grade in 2008 to eighth grade in 2012. In Bridgeport, only 22 percent of our eighth-grade students scored at or above goal on the Connecticut Mastery Test across all subjects when these same students were in fourth grade (before they came to Achievement First). After four years at AF Bridgeport Academy Middle, 73 percent of these students scored at or above goal: 51 percentage point gain over the four years. Similarly, at Amistad Academy Middle, the fourth-grade cohort entered with only 45 percent scoring at goal. By eighth grade, achievement jumped to 88 percent at goal: a 43 percentage point improvement.
Across Connecticut, our students are closing the achievement gap by eighth grade, surpassing statewide averages and, in some subjects, outperforming the state's most affluent suburban districts. In each of our Connecticut middle schools, our oldest middle school students (eighth graders) achieved 73 percent at goal averaged across all subjects, 4 percentage points higher than the statewide average. Eighth graders achieved 90 percent at goal on the math section of the Connecticut Mastery Test, outperforming students in Greenwich, one of the state's most affluent towns.
Achievement First high school students are working hard to get ready for college. More than 61 percent of our students who took the A.P. U.S. History exam scored a 4 or 5 (5 is the top score), compared with only 33 percent of students across the country. On the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, Achievement First students were again top performers on the writing section, with more than 88 percent of our students achieving at goal, compared with 63 percent of their state peers. Through a coordinated focus on college readiness, SAT performance continues to improve; Achievement First students are averaging more than 1,020 points on the reading and math sections of the test. Nationally, for the Class of 2012, the average on those two sections of the test was 1,010.