I work with schools and districts that are in the early stages of transforming to a range of deeper learning models. My thinking on something has been a little bit stuck. How might a school or district, early in the transformation from a traditional to a deeper learning model, self-assess their progress? In those early years, what measures are helpful, for teachers to report to principals, principals to superintendents or heads of school, and then on to boards? How do we know our organization is actually shifting, that we are getting closer to our North Star than we were before?
I reached out to the rapidly-growing Transcend Education “Yellow Hat” community that I have joined, and quickly was connected with Justin Ballou, a 12-year veteran of performance-based learning at Campbell High School in Litchfield, N.H. In about five minutes, Justin helped crystallize my thinking with a simple reporting structure based around three pillars:
Character: a qualitative assessment of the internal growth of the organization towards achieving a new set of goals. Elements might include:
- What is the level of buy-in from people in key positions of leadership?
- How many pilot projects are running?
- How many teachers attended professional development, shared with their peers, and demonstrated evidence of change in their classrooms?
Culture: a qualitative assessment of communication and buy-in from the broader community. Some elements might include:
- What community events were created to showcase progress towards our goals?
- How did feedback from these events change over time?
- How many people (parents, grandparents, community members) attended a school-based event, clicked on an information item on the website, or responded with feedback?
Academics: quantitative assessment of student performance. Some elements might include:
- Graduation rates.
- Performance on standardized tests.
- College application or admission statistics.
- Evidence of social and emotional growth.
What really clicked with me from talking with Justin was this: people often consider qualitative assessment to be “fuzzy”, when we know this is not the case. Ultimately, of course, we want to see evidence of increased student performance, but in the first few years of a major transoformation we probably don’t have good metrics for what we think is most important to measure, and we likely don’t even know exactly what is most important to measure. Some measures of our progress and success can be benchmarked against other schools; others might be unique to our own school and are best measured against our own past performance. As Justin said, we have to use the kind of assessments that a start-up company would use, not the kind that General Electric uses. “If you rely on metrics too early”, said Justin, “you end up measuring things you might not really value”, which of course is what schools have been doing for years. In the first few years, as we decide on long-term quantitative assessments, we should focus on the character and culture of the community, because those are indicators we are building a solid foundation of growth towards our deeper learning goals.
Feel free to reach out to Justin if you are interested in how these measures manifest, particularly at the classroom level. He speaks to, and consults with, other schools!