I saw this article a while back in a newsletter and found it very interesting. I’d appreciate feedback from parents and teachers to hear what your thoughts are.
A New Way of Evaluating Schools
In this Kappan article, Jack Schneider (The College of the Holy Cross), Rebecca Jacobson and Rachel White (Michigan State University/East Lansing), and Hunter Gehlbach (University of California/Santa Barbara) say that the ways we’ve been assessing school quality – standardized test scores and parents’ assessments of school climate – are incomplete at best. “The public thirst for information about schools is left unquenched by current efforts,” say the authors. “Districts and states aren’t measuring the full range of what people care about, at least not in a fair and accurate way. Worse, current approaches to measurement may misrepresent school quality in a way that hurts our most vulnerable young people… The result can be a vicious cycle in which negative perceptions are both the cause and consequence of low performance.”
Working with a small urban district in Massachusetts, Schneider, Jacobson, White, and Gehlbach set about finding a better way of measuring how schools are doing. They began by gathering as much information as they could about what educators, parents, and other citizens said they care about in schools. Here’s the framework for school quality that emerged:
• Teachers and the teaching environment
– Teachers’ knowledge and skills: Professional qualifications; effective practices; professional dispositions;
– Teaching environment: Professional community; support for teacher development and growth; effective leadership.
• School culture
– Safety: Student physical safety; bullying/trust;
– Relationships: Sense of belonging; student/teacher relationships;
– Academic orientation: Attendance and graduation; academic challenge.
– Facilities and personnel: Physical spaces and materials; content specialists and support staff;
– Learning resources: Curriculum strength and variety; cultural responsiveness, extracurricular activities;
– Community support: Family/school relationships; community involvement and external partnerships.
• Academic learning
– Performance: Test score growth; performance assessment;
– Student commitment to learning: Engagement in school; graduation rate;
– Critical thinking: Problem-solving emphasis; problem-solving skills;
– College and career readiness: College-going and persistence; career preparation and placement.
• Character and well-being
– Civic engagement: Civic mindset; appreciation for diversity;
– Work ethic: Perseverance and determination; growth mindset;
– Artistic and creative traits: Participation in creative and performing arts; valuing creative and performing arts;
– Health: Social and emotional health; physical health.
Although this may seem like an overwhelming amount of information, the researchers found they were able to collect it quite easily by conducting student and teacher surveys and drawing on existing district and state data. The information in the five input and outcome categories was then organized in an online platform for each school. Focus groups helped decide what an acceptable level of performance was for each area, and schools looked at their data and formulated a 2-4-year plan to boost any areas that were below par. Schools weren’t ranked against each other; “rather,” say the authors, “we showed the progress that each school was making, on multiple levels, to reach or surpass specific standards of quality.”
Having created what they believed was a comprehensive, elegant, and user-friendly data display for each school, Schneider, Jacobson, White, and Gehlbach had a cross-section of 80 community residents look at specific schools’ data on their platform and the existing Massachusetts data platform. By significant margins, people found the new platform more informative about school quality. When people who had viewed the state’s platform talked with those who had viewed the researchers’ platform about an unfamiliar school (as if they were chatting over a neighbor’s fence), the state-platform viewers modified their opinions of the school toward a more comprehensive perception.
The authors acknowledge that their approach to school evaluation is a work in progress, but they believe it is superior to what districts and states have been using and has the potential to bring about a more accurate picture of what is really going on in schools – as well as giving educators better data to fix what’s not working well. “Although pubic schools are hardly perfect,” conclude Schneider, Jacobson, White, and Gehlbach, “the narrative of crisis, fostered by the reliance on standardized test scores as measures of school quality, has exacerbated segregation and fostered a policy context conducive to disruptive reform. This is a problem that our data systems helped create – and it’s one they can help solve.”