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Lesson 9.1

Measures of Success:
For Kids and For Schools

Report cards aren’t enough, because…

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Picture the first day of kindergarten. Parents and children unclasp, with fears and tears, but also with excitement and hope.

Nearly all parents express confidence that their children will succeed in school and graduate from college one day. At the kindergarten door, this faith is uplifting and right. Every child can succeed in school with with effort and support. As children advance through school, however, an unsettling portion of that confidence smacks of wishful thinking. There is nothing automatic about academic success in school.

We're On Track, right?

Students and their parents really want to believe that school is going to work out OK. Teachers and administrators really want to believe that their schools can give kids the education they need, even when they are coming to them from behind. But there is only so much any one teacher can do.

Schools are compex organizations. As students move from grade to grade, weaknesses in the system pile up. Distractions steal a little time here and a little there. It's easy for the definition of "good work" to vary from one class to the next. Students that fall behind often do so gradually, unnoticed, making grades that don't ring alarm bells. If parents complain, it's natural for teachers and administrators to reassure them.

How does a functional school system deliver the kind of results that students deserve? And how can parents tell if the results aren't good enough?

Success for Students

California's grade-level educational standards, based on the Common Core, are more than lists of facts to be memorized and regurgitated. They describe what students need to know and be able to do at each grade level in order for college to be a clear option for them.

Three sources of information can tell you whether your son or daughter is on track: Teacher conferences, report cards, and standardized tests.

Standardized tests are the system's most objective feedback for parents. Don't ignore them.

Teacher conferences can give you useful insight into how your child behaves at school, and how he or she approaches academic work. Teachers can also help you get a feel for what students are learning in class and how you might be able to help your child succeed.

Report cards provide evaluative feedback from teachers, focusing on academic achievement. If your student's report card is just a grade, without additional information, ask why. (More on report cards in Lesson 8.2)

Standardized tests provide the most objective feedback you will get about your child's academic progress. Each year, students in California take the CAASPP tests (also known as the "Smarter Balanced" tests). These tests, which are based on the standards, are an antidote to wishful thinking. If your son or daughter is showing a pattern of low scores on the CAASPP tests, hear the alarm bell. Don't ignore it. Don't be easily reassured. Few students make it to college with a pattern of low standardized test scores, even if their grades are OK.

Success for Schools

In 2017, with the rollout of the California School Dashboard, the state introduced a new level of nuance to measuring the success of its ~10,000 schools. Schools don't get grades, exactly. For a school, success is a reflection of the success of its students, both in the short-term and the long term. Successful schools should advance or accelerate the academic achievement of each student, with particular focus on ensuring that definable groups of students are not falling behind.

Success for School Systems

The Dashboard also introduced new indicators to monitor the success of California's ~1,000 school districts. The definitions of success include short-term metrics like test scores, but also long-term ones like graduation rates, college readiness and rates of school suspension.

But let's take it a step at a time. The next lesson focuses on the success of students.

Extensively updated September 2017

Review

If you want to know whether your child is academically "on-track" toward college, generally speaking, which ONE of the following resources is most likely to give you an accurate indicator?

Answer the question correctly and earn a ticket.
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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Carol Kocivar December 7, 2017 at 12:00 pm
The New York Times asks: How Effective Is Your School District?
A New Measure Shows Where Students Learn the Most

This is an important resource from Stanford that shows growth in learning overtime. Some kids only learn about 4 years worth of knowledge in 5 years and some kids learn 6 years worth of knowledge in 5 years. What school districts shine? Chicago, for one! In California, standouts include Garden Grow, Fremont, Capistrano, and Chula Vista. You can check your district onlilne
.
https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/05/upshot/a-better-way-to-compare-public-schools.html
user avatar
Jeff Camp January 9, 2017 at 1:53 pm
Data systems for education try to provide transparency, but ALL data need to be handled with inquisitiveness. Sometimes even good news can masquerade as bad news. Here's a good example: https://edsource.org/2017/ending-the-no-child-left-behind-catch-22-on-english-learner-progress/574936?utm_source=Ed100
user avatar
Jeff Camp - Founder July 30, 2016 at 11:23 pm
Measuring success in a complex endeavor like education is not easy. Donald Campbell, an American social psychologist, studied the ways that systems respond to measurement. Campbell is particularly noted for his insights about unintended responses, such as cheating or hyperfocus on narrow definitions of success. (The tendency for evaluation to influence unintended consequences is sometimes called "Campbell's Law.) Campbell was not an opponent of measurement, but an advocate for good program design. For example, he advocated for the use of multiple measures of success and for varying the evaluation methodology. https://edexcellence.net/commentary/education-gadfly-daily/common-core-watch/2013/trust-but-verify-the-real-lessons-of-campbells-law.html
user avatar
sherryeschnell May 10, 2016 at 8:39 pm
I would like to know how many students graduate from my neighborhood school with A's and B's, get accepted into a good college and then have to take remedial classes. That would be a good indicator of a quality or non-quality neighborhood school.
user avatar
Steven N December 8, 2017 at 9:21 am
sherry - I think unfortunately this data, in the shape you suggested, cannot be reasonably be collected. In CA a reasonable measure might be "How Many remedial programs do the colleges require of graduating students from each HS?" But, since there is now a rethinking of entrance competency tests & dumbbell English (at CSUs) we probably need another way to measure. SAT and/or ACT basic standardized tests? Would work for 4 yr college bounded seniors. But what for the majority of 2 yr college or no collage bound? Does anyone know where to access ACT/SAT summaries for each HS in CA? Is it even available to the public?
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