ULS: A Crucible for Invention

The University Laboratory School (ULS) is operated by CRDG as a K–12 laboratory for researching, designing, testing, and evaluating effective approaches to improving learning, teaching, and assessment. In its forty years as a research laboratory, the school has served as a crucible for inventing new approaches and developing award-winning curricula in science, mathematics, English, social studies, and music. As CRDG’s curricula have matured, the school has taken on the additional role of demonstration site for the various exemplary programs and for approaches to teaching and learning with heterogeneous groups of students engaged in a full liberal arts curriculum.

The student population is randomly selected from among applicants to represent a broad cross section reflecting the state population distribution of gender, academic achievement, family income, and ethnicity.

All students are in school for 7.5 hours each day and take a challenging comprehensive curriculum that includes English, mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, performing arts, and foreign languages, as well as electives each year. The school has no tracking of students. All students take the identical core curriculum in high school in non-segregated classes. All students graduate ready for college, work, and responsible citizenship.

The school curriculum is performance-based and built on multi-year sequences of learning emphasizing creativity, inquiry, problem solving, and active learning. The broad range of activities included in the school’s core curriculum allows its students to excel in state- and national-level competitions in all areas. Approximately 80 percent of ULS students participate in activities outside of school in visual and performing arts, speech, mathematics, music, writing, science, social studies, and athletics.

The ULS has always served two interlocking missions: to design and deliver the best possible education to its students, and to serve the educational research and development community through the invention and testing of high quality educational programs. Beginning in 2003, CRDG formally established a new focus for its R&D work, looking at the school itself as a research project in an attempt to document the elements that have contributed to its success. The school is widely recognized as successful with diverse learners, as substantiated by high scores on state tests, graduation rates, and post-secondary enrollment. Non-academic indicators that add to this picture of success include daily attendance rates between 95 and 98 percent, and consistent college acceptance rates in the neighborhood of 98 percent. In addition, the most recent alumni survey showed general satisfaction with the Laboratory School experience, with alumni indicating that the school had prepared them well for college.

We are especially proud of another statistic that has emerged and that seems to validate our approach to teaching and learning. The rank of ULS students’ average Hawai‘i State Assessment scores among all schools statewide in grades six and below is respectable, but by grades eight and ten, it is among the highest in the state. Indeed, typically ULS is ranked in the top two schools on Hawai‘i State Assessments in grades eight and ten. The ULS student body is stable; thus, compared with other Hawai‘i students, ULS students are improving their mathematics and reading achievement as they progress from elementary through high school. This is unusual among public school students, whose academic performance usually declines in the upper grades.