A more measured approach to measuring school performance

In an op-ed piece appearing in the August 25 issue of Education Week, Douglas Reeves, chairman of The Leadership and Learning Center, and McREL President and CEO Tim Waters liken current education accountability efforts to judging a person’s health based solely on weight.

“For almost a decade, the complex enterprise of education has been reduced to box scores,” they write. “Good schools have high scores, bad schools have low scores.”

Had Michelle Obama’s campaign to fight obesity taken a similarly superficial approach, she might have just called for an annual weigh-in of every child, shaming and blaming those who tipped the scales to unacceptable levels. That would certainly cause kids to shed a few pounds—but also create a new generation of eating disorders and diet pill abusers. Fortunately, the first lady called for a more thoughtful path, calling for Americans to help their children to eat healthier food, exercise more regularly, and monitor their health more frequently.

Yet in education, we continue to operate under a “testing=learning” formula, which Reeves and Waters note, “is as superficial as the formula that ‘health=weight.’”

“If we want to avoid the educational equivalent of anorexia and pill-popping—teaching focused only on test content and test-taking strategy—then the accountability equation must include causes, not merely effects,” they write. “The accountability equation should be ‘learning=teaching+leadership.’ And an effective accountability system would measure all three elements of that equation.”

With Congress set to take up the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the key piece of federal education funding legislation) this year or next, education accountability appears to be at a crossroads, write Reeves and Waters. We have the opportunity to either move forward with more thoughtful and sophisticated systems of monitoring progress or cling to outdated, simplistic, and harmful approaches.

Read the entire article— which offers several considerations for policymakers—here (Ed Week subscription required).

Bryan Goodwin is McREL’s vice president of communications and marketing.

Leave a Reply