Author: James Noonan

Why School Quality Measurement is an Equity Issue

October 3, 2017 by

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on August 16, 2017.

Many reform-minded educators rally around the equity flag, determined to banish forever achievement gaps and opportunity gaps alike. It is a noble goal and one that I share.

Viewing the work of the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment (MCIEA) through an equity lens, I am ever mindful of the ways school quality measurement has historically been used to reinforce structural inequality. To take just one example, real estate companies catering to the demand for information on “good schools” rely on the standardized tests used by districts and states as a proxy for school quality. Not only do these tests represent relatively little of what families say they care about when choosing schools – for example, caring teachers, critical thinking curricula, and access to the arts among other things – but standardized tests are also highly correlated with race and class. In this sense, the colorblind language of “good schools” is in fact racially coded. Higher test scores do not signal good schools so much as they signal white schools or rich schools, and such misinformation only exacerbates already alarming rates of school and residential segregation.

Noting that publicly available test scores were “[t]he most influential indicator of school quality today,” researchers Mark Knoester and Wayne Au pointed out that test scores serve multiple purposes, only some of which are explicit:

The official reason testing is carried out in schools is because tests are used to evaluate, and supposedly, to improve schools. But we must also understand that testing is supported politically because it serves other purposes as well: Given its racist history and contemporary racist outcomes, high-stakes, standardized testing converts segregation, and its white supremacist impulses, into an ‘objective science.’ Testing allows parents and others to avoid the stigma of saying out loud that they favor segregation as they choose schools with a whiter and richer population for their own children. (2017, p. 11)

To truly contribute to education equity, then, we must find ways to connect our work to the cause of desegregation and the promotion of racially and economically integrated schools. No other education intervention has proven as durable or promising for improving educational equity. (more…)

Beyond Test Scores: Introducing the MCIEA School Quality Measures

April 3, 2017 by

James Noonan

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on January 30, 2017.

Ask anyone who loves a school what exactly makes it special, and you are liable to hear a wide range of opinions: competent and caring teachers, a diverse and appropriately challenging curriculum, access to cutting edge technology, a variety of extracurricular activities, availability of special education support services, an established track record of academic performance; the list goes on. And yet, measures of school quality—largely based on student standardized test scores—have long remained disappointingly narrow, unable to capture the full complexity of school quality.

Beginning in 2014, in an effort to move school quality “beyond test scores,” a team led by Dr. Jack Schneider from the College of the Holy Cross, worked with district and city leaders in Somerville to produce a more holistic picture of school quality. Together, they developed a framework now being revised and piloted by a consortium of six school districts across the state (Attleboro, Boston, Lowell, Revere, Somerville, and Winchester).

Convened by CCE, the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment (MCIEA) is committed to more authentic ways of assessing student learning and school quality, addressing the shortcomings of current measurement systems by collecting data that is both broader in scope and deeper in substance. In so doing, MCIEA hopes to demonstrate that collecting better data can produce better outcomes for schools, students, and families.

Broadly speaking, the work of MCIEA is happening across two strands. At the classroom level, teacher-designed and curriculum-embedded performance assessments offer teachers a more nuanced and authentic way to assessing student learning, one that could over time replace standardized testing. At the school and district levels, the School Quality Measures (SQM) project aims to better model the diverse perspectives and experiences of a range of school stakeholders when assessing school quality.

The School Quality Measures project aims to describe the full measure of what makes a good school. Drawing on a close reading of public polling research and empirical research on factors related to school quality, and engaging in conversations with teachers, students, families, principals, and district administrators, we have identified five categories – the first three being essential inputs and the last two being key outcomes – and over 30 unique measures to capture the nuances of schools:  (more…)

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