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A New Vision for Measuring School Quality: Part 2

This is the second article in a series of articles that seeks to offer a new vision for what school report cards might look like so we can more accurately and fairly tell a good school from one that is struggling.

The New School Report Card

In our last blog post we examined how school report cards, which purport to measure school quality, are mainly a report on how well students take standardized tests, which measure low levels of processing and basic skills rather than the 21st century skills our students need to be learning (critical thinking, problem solving, synthesizing information, creativity, collaborating, etc.). We also discussed the growing debate in several states over the contents of school report cards as well as whether or not they are understandable or fair. Finally, I began to lay out a vision for school report cards that take into consideration the two most important elements of an effective school: (1) its finances; and (2) the quality of students’ experiences.

Along with those two entities, it is also critical to consider other factors. As such, we must consider several critical questions. How much are kids learning? How good are the teachers? How good is the principal? What kind of character education takes place? How are kids social-emotional needs being met? How effectively are kids being prepared to participate as citizens in a pluralistic, democratic society? What is the school environment and culture like? Do kids like their teachers and feel connected to them? Do all students feel included and safe? How involved are parents in the school community? These are the questions that parents want to know about their child’s school and the answers to them should appear on school reports cards, as they will provide invaluable insight into which schools actually are most effective while providing schools critical information to help them improve. Last week we added three entities:

  • School Finance Data

  • Curriculum Offerings

  • Student Engagement Information

This week we will offer a few more suggestions to add to school report cards with some explanations as to why they should be added and suggestions for how we might measure those elements.

Teacher Data

An astounding amount of research suggests that the number one factor in predicting student success is teacher quality. Great teachers possess common dispositions, skills, and attitudes while also tending to be far more likely to remain in the profession if they feel contentment in their jobs (for why teachers are quitting at record numbers, view this blog post). As such, parents should want to know the quality of the teachers at their child’s school. We can report this data as a collective rather than individually naming teachers; the latter is a practice that has had catastrophic consequences. Instead we can get a larger snapshot of the quality of the teachers in any given building by looking at the aggregate data. Some data points we can report include:

  1. Number of teachers certified in the area they are teaching

  2. Teacher experience and retention rate – How long have teachers been at the school and how long have they been teaching?

  3. Education attainment level - Degree level, degree area, professional credentialing, and/or average professional development credits earned are helpful here.

  4. Teacher evaluation data – We can get this data either from building administrator evaluations or have them done by an outside evaluator as is being piloted in some states currently (there is a rubric used in most evaluations). Research indicates that external observations can be highly effective and beneficial for teachers.

  5. Teacher evaluation data from students – Much like what happens across college campuses, students can complete anonymous teacher evaluation surveys. This feedback not only empowers students, but also gives teachers invaluable feedback they can reflect on and utilize to improve their practice.

School Climate

School climate is a critical factor of a quality school and research indicates that schools with positive climates have less dropouts, fewer discipline problems, improved graduation rates, better teacher satisfaction and retention, and maybe most importantly, improved student social, emotional, and intellectual development. The National School Climate Center has identified five critical elements of school climate that include safety, teaching and learning, staff relationships, interpersonal relationships, and institutional environment. The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments offers a list of a number of already created surveys schools can use with their students and faculty to collect the data. Parents want to send their children to schools with climates that will nurture their child’s social, emotional, and intellectual growth and this type of data, which is easy to collect and report, should be included on school report cards.

Class Size Information

The last element we will explore this week is class size. Since the Clinton administration we have heard a great deal about class size being a factor in quality education. A tremendous about of research has been done in this area and in fact class size has a large impact on student achievement as well as on their social-emotional development. At the middle and high school levels, students are far less likely to drop out when they have a meaningful relationship with at least one teacher in the building (this is why we saw the small school movement grow). At the elementary level, smaller class sizes account for improved academic gains, particularly in low-income schools.

Class size information is easy to report, as we can provide an average class size rather than a student-teacher ratio, which can often be misleading. Student-teacher ratio is skewed by classes that may serve students with special needs (small numbers of students in them), non-core subject classes, or high-level and/or gifted classes, which tend to be much smaller. It would be helpful to disaggregate the average class sizes by core subject classroom, special education classroom, and non-core subject classroom. It would also be helpful to report how many paraprofessional educators, aids, specialists (e.g. literacy specialists), and tutors the school employs; with more people in the room, students receive greater attention and support. Such data would serve parents of pre-school age children well in helping them determine where they want to send their kids to school. Moreover, it would benefit policymakers and district administrators when determining school budget priorities and when comparing schools for the purpose of identifying schools in need of improvement.

A More Complete Report Card

The elements that have been suggested are easily measured and are grounded in the research on what we know makes a good school. Better yet, gathering the data for these elements comes at little to no cost. In our third and final blog post, we will examine the last few factors every school report card should have.

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