SRI International Study Finds Rocketship Alumni Outperform their Peers

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by Preston Smith
Co-Founder & CEO

Middle School has often been described as the “Black Hole” in education. These critical years are filled with challenges ranging from the academic to the social and emotional. It is a time of great transition and often where the achievement gap between students widens.

At Rocketship, we know that success in middle school is built upon a strong foundation of academics, character, creativity and social-emotional intelligence. These elements are core to a Rocketship education and where we focus as elementary school educators.

We wanted to better understand how our Rocketeers fared when they transition into middle school. So Rocketship engaged SRI Education to conduct a rigorous, two-year independent evaluation of our students’ readiness and academic success compared to peers educated in other schools. The year one results are in…and they are inspiring.

SRI’s key findings include:

rocketship_sri_studyRocketship Alumni Outperform their Peers

Overall, Rocketship students outperformed their peers in the first year of middle school. They were READY and they THRIVED.

Rocketship Alumni have Strong Social-Emotional Mindsets

Rocketship alumni reported high levels of self-efficacy, motivation, grit and persistence. Our Rocketeers remained persistent, a Rocketship core value, even as a new set of challenges emerged.

Rocketship Alumni are College Focused

Rocketeers set long-term academic goals like college attainment

Watch the amazing journey of Aranza, a recent fifth grade graduate, who came to Rocketship in third grade unable to read or speak English. In June she graduated in the top of her class and was accepted into a competitive middle school.

Eight years ago, Rocketship opened with an audacious mission: eliminate the achievement gap in our lifetime by creating a network of high-performing elementary schools in underserved communities throughout the country. We strategically decided to focus on elementary education, knowing that success in elementary school is a critical factor in kids succeeding in middle school, high school, college and beyond. While we took a laser focus on reading, writing, math and science, we also knew that the creativity, mindsets and social-emotional skills of our students would ensure their long-term success.

That’s why today, our teachers and school leaders work incredibly hard to ensure our students succeed, both academically and emotionally. And we know they are succeeding. In the 2014-2015 school year, our Rocketeers grew an impressive average of 1.7 years in math and 1.5 in reading. Our new-to-network students grew even more.

One of our students, Aranza, a recent fifth grade graduate, came to Rocketship in third grade unable to read or speak English. In June she graduated in the top of her class and was accepted into a competitive middle school. “When I grew three reading levels in one year,” Aranza says in Aranza Rising, “I knew I could achieve anything.”

2014-15NWEABut it takes so much more. Our parents have ensured our Rocketeers continue to grow in their secondary education. Through passionate advocacy, our engaged parents have influenced a powerful choice movement in San Jose. Because of Rocketship parent advocacy, the number of available high performing secondary seats in San Jose has increased significantly in the last eight years. This work has set San Jose apart nationally and created one of the few urban communities nationally where we see significant gains in eliminating the achievement gap.

The SRI brief confirms what many of us believed. Our Rocketeers are set up to bridge across the achievement gap and achieve success through middle school, high school, college and beyond.

Read SRI’s brief here.


Preston co-founded Rocketship Education in San Jose in 2006. Prior to founding Rocketship, Preston was founder and Principal of L.U.C.H.A. Elementary School, part of the Alum Rock Unified School District in San Jose, CA. After its first three years of operation, L.U.C.H.A. was the fourth highest performing low-income elementary school in California. Preston began his career in education as a Teach for America (TFA) Corps member at Clyde Arbuckle Elementary School (CA). In 2003, Preston was named “Teacher of the Year” at Arbuckle and was also nominated as one of six finalists for TFA’s Sue Lehmann award, given to TFA corps members with the highest classroom academic gains in the nation. Preston is also an Aspen New Schools Fellow.

Follow Preston on Twitter: @prestondsmith 

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