Memphis Street Academy Charter School Achieves Noteworthy Gains in 2014 PA School Performance Profile Score

Memphis Street Academy Charter School is being hailed for posting one of the largest increases in the greater Philadelphia area, notching a nearly 20-point jump in their annual Pennsylvania School Performance Profile score. In large part, these gains in the SPP score can be attributed to improvements in the area of reading. Formerly John Paul Jones Middle School, a traditionally failing Philadelphia public school, Memphis Street Academy was placed in the hands of American Paradigm three years ago. Following a concerted effort to improve the reading performance of all Memphis Street Academy students, the school posted a remarkable 96% growth rate for reading, meaning that nearly every student in the school met or exceeded expected growth targets for the 2013–14 school year. Additionally, the school improved their proficiency rates by nearly 10%, improving from 14.93% in the spring of 2013 to 24.65% in 2014.

To illustrate how difficult the circumstances were at Jones Middle School, the baseline PSSA scores at the end of the first year showed only 9% proficiency in reading. Principal Aqueelah Ellzy was placed at the helm of Memphis Street Academy in the beginning of year two. While a teacher at Blankenburg Elementary School, Principal Ellzy had been trained in and used American Reading Company’s IRLA® (Independent Reading Level Assessment). Once she was chosen as principal of her own school, she knew immediately what she wanted to do: unleash the power of the IRLA. Memphis Street Academy students began to show immediate gains as the result of an investment in the 100 BOOK CHALLENGE, which includes the IRLA formative assessment tool and rotating classroom libraries that serve as the core of the home and school reading culture.

Principal Ellzy and her entire team of teachers work very hard together in order to ensure that literacy lessons are rigorous and engaging, and that independent reading is an instructional priority. They carefully monitor scholar progress in order to promote success. They have taken measures to build a schoolwide reading culture. For instance, they provided books to adults and small children to encourage all family members to read in order to promote a text-rich home environment.

They hosted a Family Literacy Block Party to help their families better understand the IRLA and its associated leveling system. During the event, they brought the IRLA to life by arranging tables according to the color levels. Each table had a corresponding colored table cloth, balloons, a poster displaying the entry and exit requirements for the level, and a basket filled with books. A literacy specialist was available to provide tips for supporting readers at each level. The parents, along with their children, went to the table/level of their child and to the level above. Families were also able to take home seven books in their child’s reading zone for their personal library

Independent reading practice is also rewarded at Memphis Street Academy. This year, there are parades in the building to celebrate classes that achieve reading targets, and Principal Ellzy awards lapel pins for the students’ sport coats for every 200 Steps they read. Students who reach or exceed the annual target of 800 Steps for reading practice will be rewarded with an end of year banquet and public acknowledgment.

The central goal of Memphis Street Academy Charter School is to immerse middle school students in a dynamic, success-oriented learning experience every day. The foundation for this work includes building, supporting, and enhancing the development of confident readers. The school is pledged to develop every one of its students into young critical thinkers, problem solvers, and proficient readers.

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