John Gulla, Executive Director of E.E. Ford Foundation, and Olaf Jorgenson, Head of Almaden Country School, California published an article in Independent School Magazine that summarizes and reviews our evolving capacity to gauge the value added by schools. While their direct focus is on independent schools, I find fewer differences than similarities in what public and private school leaders understand to be the necessary value that schools should be providing to their students and families. The similarity of interest and purpose is clear in the question that John and Olaf posed to 200+ independent school leaders throughout California: “How do you answer a board member who asks ‘how to measure and communicate student outcomes as promised in our mission statements?’” While schools do a good job at measuring student progress on standardized exams of math and reading, measuring outcomes against the rest of our collective missions has proven elusive at best.
I could not agree more; most parent surveys with which I am familiar are largely framed to test satisfaction of past and current performance within a narrowly defined range of what school “could be”. In a time of increasing options for education, we need to survey our customers about their wishes, dreams, and aspirations, and then find valuable ways to meet them. This means allowing parents, student, and the community to tell us what they want in the future, not merely react to what we have offered in the past.
Standardized assessments only measure one type of learning: memorization and recall.
While evolving standardized tests like the PISA and others mentioned in this article may assess higher order cognitive and non-cognitive skills, most standardized tests still reward short-term memorization and recall. Simply, we are not testing what we purport to value.
Gulla and Jorgenson mention the following tests that may begin to provide a window into higher order skills and allow us to start to track relevant longitudinal success:
The CWRA+…is designed to measure a school’s contribution to developing a student’s critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving, and written communication ability.
The HSSSE…informs the ways in which students engage in the educational program and the broader life of a school.
The MSA…an instrument to measure middle school students’ mission-related skills that are rarely assessed yet critical to student success…determined to be reliable and valid according to ETS scientific research standards, is in its third round of data collection.
But, they finish by stating that:
The elusive but essential attributes of character that form the core of most mission statements remain outside the grasp of dashboards that we’ve examined to date.
I look forward to following and reporting on the work that John and Olaf have started.