Bentley Academy Charter School Jumps from Level 4 to Level 1 School, Exits Turnaround Status
Once among Massachusetts’ lowest-achieving public schools, Bentley Elementary has achieved significant gains to become a role model for turnaround schools. Since launching the Kickboard school culture system in 2014 and becoming Bentley Academy Charter School (BACS) in 2015, the school has dramatically improved its culture and academic performance. In 2016, BACS was one of only two schools statewide to exit Level 4 and jump from Level 4 to Level 1, the state’s highest-performing classification.
- One of the lowest-achieving schools in Massachusetts
- State-mandated turnaround school
- The highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students in Salem Public Schools
In Massachusetts, schools are classified into one of five accountability and assistance levels, with the highest performing in Level 1 and the lowest in Level 5. In 2011, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education classified Bentley Elementary as a Level 4 school for its low test scores and academic achievement. In 2012, Bentley was again classified at Level 4, ranking in the bottom 4 percent of elementary schools in the state. In 2013, one year into its state-mandated turnaround, the school dropped to the bottom 3 percent.
In 2014-15 Bentley Elementary, which was called Bentley 3–5, set a goal that within three years it would become a flagship Salem Public School. It revamped its turnaround model and established six key design elements or pillars for the school:
- Rigorous and comprehensive curricula
- A culture of achievement
- The use of data to differentiate instruction
- Excellence in instruction and leadership
- A longer school day and year
- A relationship between the school and community
To support its efforts, Bentley also began using the Kickboard school culture system. Kickboard includes a highly configurable, web-based platform and collaborative, research-based professional development. With Kickboard, educational leaders can set school- and district-wide behavior expectations to help teachers keep students on task. With just a tap, teachers can easily record and reinforce the behaviors that make up the school’s ideal culture — without adding extra work to their day.
“We began using Kickboard to support several of our pillars,” said Marlena Afonso, who joined Bentley 3–5 as head of operations in 2014-15. “Kickboard helps us establish clear, consistent, high expectations for our students, and it allows us to easily quantify and measure how well our students are meeting our expectations so we can make adjustments as needed.”
The following school year, Bentley Elementary reorganized again into the Bentley Academy Charter School and began operating as a charter school within Salem Public Schools.
Supporting core values
At BACS, scholars and staff members alike commit to exemplifying five core values:
“These values drive our culture and everything we do at BACS,” said Afonso, who is now head of school at BACS. “With Kickboard, we can give students constant feedback about their performance and get them excited about learning and demonstrating these values.”
Using Kickboard, teachers can instantly record when students demonstrate the core values or other behaviors and automatically assign “Bentley Bucks.” In grades K–2, students can earn $5 Bentley Bucks per week for showing their core values. In grades 3–5, they can earn $20 Bentley Bucks per day or $100 per week. Students can also earn Bonus Bucks for going above and beyond to demonstrate their core values. They can spend their weekly paycheck at the school store, save it to purchase special prizes, or pool their money toward class prizes.
Students who earn a minimum of $4 a week in grades K–2 or $94 a week in grades 3–5 can also participate in Friday Choice Time activities such as crafting, salsa dancing, hip-hop, or poetry. Students who do not earn Choice Time attend a “reflection” and meet with the dean of student success, Jenna Cripps, to review their behavior and make a plan to improve. They meet with Cripps again on Wednesday to ensure they are implementing the steps they discussed.
Increasing students’ accountability
“In terms of accountability, the Bentley Bucks have been a great asset for our community,” said Cripps. “In addition to helping us hold our scholars accountable for their behaviors, it gives them a way to track their progress toward their own goals. Students can check in on their paychecks and see the choices they’re making, which is very motivating. It also allows us to see which core values students are embracing and which values we need to work on in a grade level or as a school.”
If, for example, Cripps sees that students are struggling with integrity, she may organize a school-wide “Town Hall” or ask teachers to emphasize integrity in their instruction and award Bonus Bucks to students who show that value.
Monitoring behavior expectations with real-time data
In addition to core values, BACS has established school-wide expectations for safety, the school building, hallway, cafeteria, bathroom, schoolyard, and bus. “That’s all built into Kickboard, which is a huge help,” said Cripps. “With Kickboard, our teachers can see in real-time if students are meeting our core values and expectations, so they can act on that data and intervene or make adjustments in their instruction. We can also see school trends so we can celebrate our successes or direct our attention to any issues that arise.”
Improving communication with parents
Every week, BACS prints each scholar’s paycheck from Kickboard and sends it home to parents so they can see how well their children are embracing the school’s values and expectations. School leaders can also run student reports in Kickboard to illustrate each student’s behavior and contribution to the school culture over any period of time.
“We often pull up individual student reports if a teacher or parent has a concern, or if we’re having a parent meeting or parent-teacher conference,” said Cripps. “Both the weekly paychecks and the reports give our families a deeper understanding of what’s going on in terms of their child’s behavior.”
- Moved from Level 4 in 2015 to Level 1 in 2016
- One of only two schools statewide to exit Level 4 in 2016
- Improved student performance on state assessments and accountability measures
- Reduced suspensions and office referrals
By applying its key design elements and actively reinforcing its core values, BACS has made remarkable progress. From 2015 to 2016, it moved from a Level 4 to a Level 1 school and exited turnaround status.
“In 2016, we were only one of two schools in the state to shed the Level 4 designation and go from turnaround to Level 1,” said Afonso. “This is the result of our students, our families, and our teachers all working in the same direction toward our goals. Kickboard provides us with a tool that allows us to see our progress so we can build on our successes or make changes if we’re not seeing results. It gives us the information we need to continue to improve.”
Achieving double-digit gains on state accountability measures
Since 2011, Bentley has achieved gains on several state accountability measures including state assessments, the Composite Performance Index (CPI), and Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs).
In Massachusetts, the CPI is a number from 1 to 100 that represents the extent to which all students are progressing toward proficiency in a given subject. Since 2011, Bentley students have made substantial proficiency gains in English language arts and mathematics.
The school has also had double-digit gains in its SGPs, which measure gains in student achievement from year to year.
Reducing suspensions and office referrals
In addition, BACS has seen decreases in suspensions and office referrals. The number of Level 3 Infractions, which can result in suspension hearings including in-school suspension, decreased by 50 percent from 2015-16 to 2016-17.
“We have only had seven Level 3 Infractions occur in comparison to 14 at this time last year,” said Cripps. “We have created a healthier, happier and more positive school culture by using our Bentley Bucks system on Kickboard.”
Emphasizing core values and celebrating student successes
Across the school, students are also doing a better job exemplifying core values. For example, in 2016-17 in grades 3–5, the top scholars earned an average of 260 Bonus Bucks for showing grit.
“This is a vast improvement from last year where scholars were averaging around 183 Grit Bonus Bucks,” said Cripps. “Looking at the data, it’s clear that our school is building a culture that’s beneficial for all of our scholars, and we’re creating a space where all of our scholars can achieve greatness. Kickboard has assisted our school in building this culture and holding our scholars accountable for their actions academically and socially.
“Because both behavior and academic performance have improved, we’ve been more focused this year on celebrating with our students,” she continued. “Kickboard is a great asset to our community because it provides us with the data we need to communicate with scholars and their families, and to communicate with teachers and staff about students’ progress. The Kickboard team has also been very supportive of our needs, which has been a huge help to our school.”
“We know there are no silver bullets in education, but Kickboard has definitely been part of a strategy that has turned around our school’s culture and academics,” said Afonso. “With Kickboard, not only do we say we have these core values and behavior expectations, but we can hold ourselves accountable and share that information with students and their families. It allows us to work on many of our key pillars so we can ensure that we’re providing the best education experience possible for our students.”