Why Equality Charter School prioritizes student growth over student achievement

‘We really want to push each student that comes to us as far as they can possibly go’

Equality Charter School’s dedication to serving high-needs students in the Bronx, New York, often brings unique challenges for teachers and leadership.

“We may have an 11-year-old student who joins our school two years behind,” said Chief Financial Officer Gabriel Park. “How do you get a student to advance three years by the time they turn 12?”

That scenario is a common one — at entry, 77 percent of students at Equality Charter School test below grade level in math, while 81 percent test below grade level in English language arts.

So how do leaders bring every student up to grade level by graduation?

“You can’t do it. It’s not humanly possible in some instances,” Gabriel said. “We know that some of our students will never graduate and some who do graduate will never go to college, but we show each student the same level of care.”

To ensure students at every level still receive the attention they deserve, Equality Charter School focuses on student growth as their primary measure of success.

“There are some districts that focus acutely on student achievement. We certainly value student achievement, but we prioritize student growth,” Gabriel said. “We really want to push each student that comes to us as far as they can possibly go.”

According to Gabriel, prioritizing student growth also discourages harmful admission practices.

“If you really focus on student achievement, one way to get those numbers up is to not admit kids in 11th and 12th grade,” he said. “We could have a 100 percent graduation rate if we only admitted students in earlier grades.”

Instead, by focusing on student growth, Equality Charter School creates more opportunities for students of all ages and abilities.

“We backfill in 11th grade and we backfill in 12th grade because we take our mission as a public school seriously,” Gabriel said. “We want to help the kid who moved to the Bronx at age 17 just as much as the kid who’s been with us since 6th grade.”

Ultimately, Gabriel said, that’s Equality Charter School’s purpose.

“It’s not easy for every family to get a high-quality education in the Bronx,” he said. “We exist to provide that opportunity.”

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