Saturday, June 13, 2009

Monitoring schools in top performing systems

How the world's best-performing school systems come out on top has chapters on recruiting teachers, training and professional development, and then ensuring "the best possible instruction for every child." In the middle of that third chapter, the report notes that:
The high-performing systems use two mechanisms for monitoring the quality of teaching and learning:

Examinations: Examinations test what students know, understand and can do, providing an objective measure of actual outcomes at a high level of detail. Examinations also have a powerful effect in driving the performance of any school system. In the words of one Australian educationalist, “What gets tested is what gets learnt, and how it is tested determines how it is learnt.”

School review: School reviews, or inspections, assess the performance against a benchmark set of indicators. Unlike examinations, they measure both outcomes and the processes that drive them, and as a results, can help schools and systems identify specific areas that are in need of improvement. School reviews also enable systems to measure some of the more subtle and complex desired outcomes of a school system, which are difficult or impossible to measure in examinations.”
Under Senate Bill 1, Kentucky is moving to a similar combination. The accountability system that launches in 2011-12 will combine assessments of student work in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, and on-demand writing with program reviews of arts & humanities, practical/career studies, and portfolio writing.

For Kentucky, the arts really have been an area where performance is "difficult or impossible to measure in examinations." In writing, the big issue has been about the process schools used, too often creating exhausted students without nurturing increasingly skilled writers. This international analysis shows that other school systems with some strong results have found inspections a useful strategic tool in similar circumstances.

Meanwhile, I would love to see the standards other countries use for their inspections, and to know about the time, staffing, and funding those systems think are required to get good results. Our new reviews can be a big improvement or a giant fraud depending on whether we invest in them properly. Looking at these other nations is one way we can benchmark what serious inspections look like.

I introduced this important report and outlined its overall approach here.

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Updates and data on Kentucky education!