In this fast-paced world of accountability, the public has demanded results that can be easily understood and categorized for quick decision making. An A through F grade appears to fit that need in determining how effective our public schools are -- or does it?
Our world has developed into one where results are everything. Understandably, people want good results when they dedicate their time and resources to any goods or services. Often, people study results to help them make decisions about how they will spend their time and their money.
Parents, as well as people who have a high interest in the well-being of a community, expect good results from their schools. People expect students to learn and to develop into productive citizens. Historically, many attempts have come and gone in efforts to measure and report results for schools. The federal No Child Left Behind legislation and Indiana's A-F systems are two examples of lawmakers attempting to measure and report results in learning.
However, learning and human development are very complex processes. An attempt to measure and report results for such complex processes is not a simple task. Therefore, the latest attempt to measure results in schools, the Indiana A-F model, is facing major revision with the accuracy, integrity and validity of the system in question.
As our elected representatives once again address the “how” of measuring results in schools, we as educational leaders recommend they consider a shift in this excessive emphasis on testing for results to attention to the processes that produce results.
Learning is a holistic experience. Much research exists identifying characteristics present in schools that produce high results. Schools and education in Indiana will be better served with attention and support of these effective school characteristics.
Let us examine just three examples of processes that, if deployed, will result in effective schools.
First, in schools identified as effective, many opportunities exist for students to master well-defined standards at high levels. Everyone in the school knows what is to be taught and learned. There are no surprises. In addition, all activities are designed for teachers to teach and students to learn at high levels.
Second, multiple and varied assessment practices are used to measure results in effective schools. Assessments are created to determine what students need to learn. In addition, regular assessments are used to determine whether the student is learning. These short-term results are used to immediately improve learning. Finally, end of lesson testing produces final results. However, using the final results to begin the teaching-learning process again is a characteristic of the continuous improvement process in effective schools. Results are not used as a label; they are used as a means to an end.
A third and very important characteristic of effective schools is embedded in the proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise the child.” Effective schools demonstrate high evidence of parent, student, family, community and business involvement and collaboration. This involvement is not limited to fundraisers. A genuine working together exists with the focus on learning. The result is a high sense of pride in the school, with support and genuine involvement by all.
State legislative leaders would better advance learning for all by studying and supporting the research associated with effective schools. Legislative action has historically emphasized final assessments and results such as ISTEP and "A-F" in making decisions affecting schools. We suggest a modification of the A-F system that includes practices from current research on effective schools. Testing at the end of the line alone will not improve results.
The Northwest Indiana Superintendents Study Council embraces accountability in public education. As educators, we recommend state leaders increase the probability of high results for students, as well as promoting joy in learning, by supporting efforts and processes with training and finances. Working to end ranking and sorting through attention to the improvement of the educational system will benefit all Indiana kids.