Announcing Our First-Ever Bold Improvement School Winners!


A Look Behind the Curtain at Schools Closing the Achievement Gap


July 12, 2018

Earlier this year, the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education released the annual school Equity Reports, data showing academic growth, discipline, and attendance by demographics. When we analyzed the data, we noticed a correlation between percent at-risk tested and a school's median growth percentile, DC's academic growth metric. Yet, there were several high at-risk schools with growth data on-par with their higher-income Ward 3 peers.

As we did with our annual Bold Performance School awards for high at-risk schools with achievement rates far exceeding expectations, we used robust statistical analyses to find schools with PARCC growth demonstrating they are closing the socioeconomic achievement gap. While this trend holds true for many DC schools, the following ten amazing schools demonstrate that socioeconomic hardships do not predetermine how much growth their students can accomplish from one spring to the next. Meet our first-ever Bold Improvement Schools:

Aiton Elementary (Ward 7)

Center City Shaw ES/MS (Ward 6)

DC Bilingual ES (Ward 5)

Friendship Blow-Pierce MS (Ward 7)

Ketcham Elementary (Ward 8)

Kimball Elementary (Ward 7)

KIPP Northeast MS (Ward 5)

KIPP Promise ES (Ward 7)

Nalle Elementary (Ward 7)

Thomson Elementary (Ward 2)

EmpowerK12, a nonprofit supporting District public and public charter schools to implement data-driven instructional practices, analyzed the 2017 PARCC student growth data and found that at-risk concentration was the most predictive indicator of school-wide PARCC median growth percentile. An at-risk student is a child whose family qualifies for SNAP or TANF benefits, is placed in foster care, or lives in a homeless shelter. Almost 50 percent of tested students in DC were considered at-risk this past year, and the more at-risk students a school serves, the lower a schools's median student growth percentile on average, according to an EmpowerK12 analysis (see chart below*)

Lessons for All from DC's Bold Improvement Schools

We, along with Education Reform Now, toured and spoke with Bold Improvement school leaders. Our accompanying report uncovered 4 common practices moving the needle for all students. Continue reading this web page or download the full report to discover what we learned!

Bold Improvement award-winning schools serve a high at-risk student population and have combined math and English language arts growth rates dramatically higher than similar schools. EmpowerK12 created a School Growth Index that accounts for both the school's two-year average median growth percentile and percent at-risk served, and then identified ten schools with the highest Growth Indices.  (See award-winner data in graphics below and full Growth Index data for all schools at the bottom of this web page. For additional information on the Growth Index calculation, see methodology details in the Report appendix) 


Six of the Bold Improvement award-winning schools are located south of the Anacostia River in Ward 7 and Ward 8, one in Ward 6, two in Ward 5, and one in Ward 2. Together, the 10 schools educate 3,400 students of which 14 percent receive special education services and 62 percent are considered at-risk.

EmpowerK12 Executive Director Josh Boots praised the combined efforts of students, educators, and families at these schools: “Due to the extraordinary efforts of these Bold Improvement schools, their students are on pace to close the achievement gap with Ward 3 schools within 4 years.”


This is the first year EmpowerK12 has recognized bold improving schools, and we will continue to do so every year after OSSE releases PARCC growth data on the new state report card. In partnership with Education Reform Now, we visited the Bold Improvement Schools to learn what practices they had in common and are unique to their schools.

We found 4 common threads across all 2017 Bold Improvement schools, in addition to the presence of a strong, inspirational school leader. See infographic below.


Common Bold Improvement Practices

We also found a few particularly unique school practices at the Bold Improvement schools worth further exploration by other school systems aiming to be "Bold." These ideas are all data-driven from the standpoint that they have data supporting the decision and a commitment to fidelity of implementation via continuous improvement cycles. The unique practices range from family engagement activities to selective classroom practices to technology implementation. See more in the list below.

Ultimately, we believe this Bold Improvement School report, a collaboration between EmpowerK12, ERN, and the school winners, is the type of quantitative analytics and qualitative research that a DC Research Consortium built under a collaborative framework, not one from the Auditor's office, can produce more often. 

Congratulations to this year's Bold Improvement School winners and thank you for helping close the socioeconomic achievement gap! We look forward to analyzing your success again later this summer after the Mayor releases the 2018 PARCC data and later this year when OSSE releases the new STAR school report cards.


Unique Ideas Some Bold Improvement Schools are Implementing

Circle of Trust (But Verify)

Circle of Trust (But Verify)

Circle of Trust (But Verify)


Bold Improvement school leaders understand humans work hard for people they know, love, trust, and respect and who give them the same. It was obvious from our tours and interviews how this mentality flows down from principals to teachers to students and families. The staff trust, but use observational and outcome data to verify, communicating well the "why" when making requests for change.

Principal as Crossing Guard

Circle of Trust (But Verify)

Circle of Trust (But Verify)


Every morning, one Bold principal is out greeting parents and students as they get to school. The principal engages in pertinent parent conversations daily this way and sometimes goes and knocks on doors of missing students the very same morning. The principal has strong instructional and operational APs managing the rest of start-of-day activities.

Embedded Montessori Room

Circle of Trust (But Verify)

Parent University Saturdays


In one Bold school, we toured a Montessori-style classroom nestled among traditional classrooms. The school used student data to determine one multi-age room would best serve their students and has a Montessori-trained teacher leading it. Parents had to opt-in.

Parent University Saturdays

Parent University Saturdays

Parent University Saturdays


Every Saturday morning there is a hot meal for any parent-student combination attending Parent University. Parents learn what their students are currently getting in the classroom and then taught how to support their students' learning, engaging in that parent-student connection on-site.

One-to-One Technology

Parent University Saturdays

One-to-One Technology


A few schools are ensuring 1-to-1 device availability where students learn to take care of their device, have it on-hand for class and centers, and are able to pick up where they left off right away. Leaders see this as the next step in a process to implement innovative computer-centric, data-driven solutions.

Teacher Looping

Parent University Saturdays

One-to-One Technology


At a couple Bold elementary schools we learned they were strategically looping students with the same teacher over multiple years to give students' stability. They only do this with strong teachers who have the academic growth and family engagement data to prove it's working.

Involve Out-of-School Time Providers

Involve Out-of-School Time Providers

Involve Out-of-School Time Providers


At least one Bold Improvement school leader frequently organizes meetings between out-of-school time providers and teachers to ensure complimentary curriculum to what's happening in class.

Wraparound Services

Involve Out-of-School Time Providers

Involve Out-of-School Time Providers


At one Bold school serving a very high at-risk and homeless population, they go out of their way to offer wraparound services to help families feel comfortable coming to and being at school. They even installed a washer and dryer to help families with difficulty keeping school uniforms clean.

Staff Hiring Team

Involve Out-of-School Time Providers

Staff Hiring Team


Teachers may operate as independent leaders in their classroom, but Bold school staffs realize they are a part of a team. A couple school leaders even create hiring teams where staff are the primary selectors of new teachers joining the team.

The Bold Improvement Winners:


Download the Full Report and Press Release

Lessons from Bold Improvement Schools - EK12 and ERN (pdf)


News Release-Empowerk12 Bold Improvement Schools-July 2018 (pdf)


EmpowerK12 Growth Index Dashboard

Download the Full EmpowerK12 Growth Index Data

Excel file includes the 2017 Growth Index, two-year average math and reading MGPs, percent at-risk served for every school serving at least 30 percent at-risk.