Going Beyond Academics in Assessing School Effectiveness

coreA recent article in Education Week, written by Evie Blad, examines how select California school districts, collectively known as CORE districts, are measuring school effectiveness with criteria that extends beyond academic success. As discussions about school accountability begin to focus more intently on factors beyond standardized-test scores, educators and policymakers nationwide are closely watching these districts as they rethink how they evaluate school effectiveness.

In 2013, six districts received the only local-level waiver from the U.S. Department of Education when it bypassed California’s state education department to excuse those school systems from some requirements of the outdated No Child Left Behind Act. In return for federal flexibility, the districts—including Los Angeles Unified, San Francisco, and Fresno, some of the state’s largest—agreed to create a first-of-its-kind local accountability system that relies on a broad range of indicators in addition to traditional test scores to monitor schools. Those indicators include: suspension rates, school-climate survey responses from parents, and measures of traits related to students’ social development and engagement, like self-management and social awareness.

That work foreshadowed an inclusion of non-academic factors as a part of school accountability in the Every Student Succeeds Act, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December. Under ESSA, state accountability systems will be required to include at least one nonacademic indicator. The legislation lists educator engagement, student engagement, and school climate measures as examples, and it leaves the door open for others.

In the CORE districts, the school-quality-improvement index bases 60 percent of a school’s score on academic factors. The remaining 40 percent of a school’s score will be a combination of factors related to school climate and students’ non-cognitive skills, such as self-management. Current school-level report cards crafted under the index include three factors in this category: rates of chronic absenteeism, suspension and expulsion rates, and the rate at which English-language learners are re-designated as fluent. Beginning in 2016, two other factors will be added to that nonacademic domain: measures of students’ non-cognitive skills and the results of student, staff, and parent surveys about school climate and safety.

After consulting a growing body of research that links such skills to a higher likelihood of college and career success, the CORE districts identified four student traits to measure and track: social awareness, self-management, self-efficacy; which is the level of confidence an individual has in his or her ability to succeed and to control … their own motivation, behavior, and environment, and growth mindset, which is defined as an understanding that academic skill is not an inherent, fixed trait but one that can grow through effort.

The district’s plan is to assess those traits through surveys that ask students questions like how frequently they come to class prepared and how much they agree or disagree with statements such as: “Challenging myself won’t make me any smarter” and “I can earn an A in all of my classes.” CORE districts piloted a longer menu of survey questions with 450,000 students. After refining that list, CORE will conduct surveys at every school this year.

For more information, read the full article here.