Over the last six years, no more than 24 percent of students at Kramer Middle School in Southeast D.C. have read proficiently. Math scores during that same period have never been higher than the 29 percent registered in 2011. Enrollment has dwindled almost 40 percent since 2006 (454 to 277) as two high-performing charter schools serving middle grades (Achievement Prep and KIPP:AIM) have taken root in Ward 8.
That makes it a pretty good place for DCPS to try blended learning, a mix of on-line and traditional instruction that Chancellor Kaya Henderson hopes can be a game changer. Officials announced Thursday that Kramer will switch to a blended approach this fall, with half of its academic program delivered through on-line courses aligned to the new Common Core State Standards. As one of the city’s 40 lowest performing schools, Kramer is targeted for a 40-point turnaround in test scores by 2017, a pledge that was part of Henderson’s recently unveiled five-year plan.
Henderson is keen on the blended model. She tried unsuccessfully to lure Rocketship, the widely-praised California-based charter network that has gotten promising results from poor students, to D.C. Instead, Kramer is using a federal School Improvement Grant and Race to the Top funds to take the leap. It has bought curricula and technical support from a team of digital providers, including Johns Hopkins, and Adaptive Curriculum and BrainHoney.
Educators are hoping that the interactive lessons will engage students below grade level, helping them to make up ground while teachers work personally with more advanced students. Dashboards will keep students updated on their progress and what they need to do to improve. It will also allow teachers to give more timely feedback and support in areas where kids are struggling.
About 70 percent of Kramer students are a year or more behind their grade level, according to DCPS. But principal Kwame Simmons said he believes students can gain 13 to 15 points a year under the new system.
“This is not just technology for technology’s sake,”Simmons said. “We have been very intentional about what research says drives learning. We chose strategies to improve learning not just by one or two grade levels but by multiple grade levels.”
At Kramer, that would be more than game changer. It would be a revolution.