Writing for FutureEd, Bryan Hassel and Greg Lippman describe a project that attempts to develop a new measure of school performance that clearly identifies which schools are doing the best job with vulnerable student populations. Excerpts of the piece appear below:
Knowing a school’s numbers of English language learners, students with disabilities, and students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and their proficiency rates on standardized tests doesn’t reveal the schools’ relative success with the toughest-to-educate students. To the contrary, under traditional measures of school performance, the more high-need students a school serves, the worse its performance looks.
These challenges, and a desire to identify schools that do a great job with the nation’s most challenged students so that others can learn from them, have been the focus since 2018 of the National Campaign for Highest-Need Students. This initiative grew out of the work of ACE Charter Schools, a network founded by community leaders in San Jose, California, intent on addressing the profound academic struggles of the area’s most disengaged and disenfranchised students.
The campaign turned to Education Analytics and Public Impact, companies that support school improvement, to develop a School Needs Index to more precisely determine the level of student academic, social and emotional need in each school and gauge which schools have been most successful in supporting the nation’s most disadvantaged students.
Their model, outlined in a new report, Identifying Schools Achieving Great Results with Highest-Need Students, gives decision-makers a tool to determine which schools serve highest-need students, and which lead to the greatest student success. The School Needs Index groups dozens of student characteristics into four domains to assess the level of student need: student engagement (including chronic absenteeism and suspension rates); demographics (students who are new to the school, from migrant families, or with a specific disability status); academics (including prior test scores); and economics (estimates of family income or homelessness).
Unlike measures of need based on opinion or politics, the School Needs Index includes and weights characteristics based on how much they actually contribute to student outcomes, such as reading and math learning.
With this measure of school need in hand, it becomes possible to compare how well each school is doing with highest-need students, in comparison to schools serving similar students. Importantly, the analysis focuses on students’ learning growth, rather than merely a snapshot of their performance, allowing policymakers to see which schools are doing the best job serving these students.