Let’s take a holistic approach to judging schools (Opinion)


(This is the last article in a four-part series. You can view part one heresecond part hereand the third part here.)

The new question of the week is:

What other means besides the results of standardized tests to assess the effectiveness of schools?

In the first part, Holly Spinelli, Tameka Porter, Ph.D., Mary K. Tedrow and Meghann Seril shared their answers. Holly, Tameka and Mary were also guests on my 10 minute BAM! Radio program. You can also find a list and links to previous shows here.

In the second partJoseph Rodgers, Lorie Barber, Cindy Garcia and Mike Kaechele provided their thoughts.

In the third partDenita Harris, Jennifer Mitchell, Rebecca Alber and Amanda Kipnis offered their answers.

Today, Ron Berger completes this series.

Learn from England

Ron Berger is the Senior Advisor for Teaching and Learning at EL Educationauthor of numerous books on education, and taught in public schools for over 25 years.

There are few topics in education that almost everyone seems to agree on, but the attributes of a good school may be just one. When I talk to parents about what they want from a school for their children, the answers I get are the same across all sorts of differences – geography, income, work, politics and race. And that has been true for all my 46 years of study.

Parents want a school where their children feel physically and emotionally safe; where their children are known and valued; where academic standards are high and work is engaging and meaningful; where students of all abilities receive effective support; where the school culture builds positive character habits such as respect, responsibility, courage, and kindness; where there is a wide range of opportunities beyond the classroom in areas such as the arts and athletics; where the physical facilities are large and well maintained; and where their children will grow into confident, capable learners and good citizens.

Despite the remarkable and almost universal agreement in this vast constellation of characteristics that are important in a school, we continue as a nation to ignore it. We rank all schools based on a single characteristic – annual test scores in two subjects – and we further rank secondary schools on a second characteristic – the percentage of graduates attending top-tier colleges and universities. From an equity perspective, it is important to emphasize that these two measures are exactly correlated with parental income. Most “good” schools get credit for achieving something that the data shows was predictable, regardless of which school they attended.

Imagine if we took this reductionist approach we applied to schools and used it to assess how our own children are doing:

“How are your children? »

“Well, my daughter is 82 – she’s competent, but my son is 66 – he needs improvement.”

There are so many factors in our children’s physical and emotional health, habits, needs, dispositions, talents, interests and accomplishments, that the idea of ​​describing our children with a single number or a single label is absurd.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are methods for evaluating and describing the holistic quality of schools that are informative for families and communities and important for schools in their continuous improvement efforts. These “school quality reviews” or “degree reviews” are often used overseas and also in school systems in the United States. My own organization, EL Education, works with our public school partners across the country in an annual school quality review to inform ongoing work. for improvement and equity.

I’ve heard educators and policy makers dismiss this idea as ambitious or even impossible. School networks and associations can do this, they say, but extending it to all public schools is simply not feasible. Let me counter this perspective by sharing with you a story from England, where every school is holistically assessed and high-stakes tests don’t take place every year for pupils, but only over the course of a few years. selected from a student’s school career. (Low-stakes diagnostic testing of students happens all the time, but serves a different purpose: supporting student learning instead of ranking schools).

I have had the privilege of working for many years with a network of schools in the North of England, the XP School Trust, which uses the EL Education school model. The recent official school quality review of the first XP school by Ofsted (National Board for Educational Standards) was very different from what school communities in the United States receive.

In addition to an overall score for each of the four domains of school experience – Leadership and Management Effectiveness; quality of teaching, learning and assessment; Personal development, behavior and well-being; and Outcomes for Students—the report contained 12 pages of detailed evidence from observations, interviews, and data. The school received an outstanding rating in each of the four areas, but what is most compelling is the nature of the qualitative feedback.

Here are examples of bulleted quotes from the report:

  • The behavior of the students in class and in their movements in the school is irreproachable. They are very aware of the needs of others and clear about the positive impact of minor acts of kindness. As one student said in a discussion session, “Holding an open door for someone may be a small thing, but it can make their day.
  • Leaders and governors very effectively manage staff performance to raise standards. The impact of staff actions on improving student progress is regularly checked through conversations and a series of in-depth and detailed checks and reviews of student work. … The process of integrating new staff into the school is very detailed and efficient.
  • The school’s curriculum is broad, balanced and interesting. It is underpinned by a very wide range of after-school clubs and athletic opportunities open to all…(including) opportunities for students to develop as leaders and organizers of charitable and other events.
  • Students show great respect for the opinions of others, but they are also not afraid to take a stand if they see inappropriate or thoughtless opinions being expressed. They have regular opportunities to discuss and reflect on their learning, progress and attitudes.
  • Students report that there is no bullying at school. Inspection results show that incidents of bullying are very rare. The students are very clear about the forms bullying can take.
  • Parents receive clear, regular and detailed reports of their children’s progress. There is nearly 100% attendance at student progress parties and events. Students facilitate discussion of their work and progress during these sessions.
  • Parents are extremely positive about the work of the school and the positive impact it has on the intellectual progress and moral well-being of their children.

Few schools in the UK are happy to host government inspectors. But I believe they have no idea how much better this system is compared to the experience of schools in the United States. If leaders, teachers and families in the UK were to learn that American schools receive only one piece of feedback: test results in two subjects. — without feedback on all the dimensions of their school that support student learning and growth, I believe they would feel great sympathy for us.

It really doesn’t have to be that way. We create accountability systems for schools for two purposes. First, to identify which schools – and what aspects of a school – are doing well, so that we can learn from them and build on that success. And second, to identify which schools – and which aspects of a school – are not successfully meeting the needs of students, including each subgroup of students.

These two goals are only important to the extent that the accountability system drives improvement. The more holistic and detailed the feedback, the more useful it is and the more likely it is to lead to improvement. Unfortunately, this is not the norm in the United States. Instead, we spend a lot of time and money supporting a system that provides little information (literally only end-of-year math and English test scores) and is therefore painfully inadequate to guide the school improvement. Of course, it is important that students have strong math and literacy skills, but that is far from all that matters.

the idea

Thanks to Ron for his contribution!

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