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Posted at 10:25 AM ET, 10/ 8/2010

Using 'School Quality Reviews' to improve schools

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Monty Neill, director at The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, known as FairTest; and Gary Ratner, executive director of Citizens for Effective Schools.
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By Monty Neill and Gary Ratner
Last June, Monty outlined a three-part assessment and evaluation system for schools that should replace No Child Left Behind’s test-centric structure. This is the first of three articles that will describe in more detail how each component would work: School quality reviews, local assessments, and annual state tests in a few grades. Together, the three components would provide comprehensive evidence of school quality and progress.

Often called “inspectorates,” School Quality Reviews (SQRs) are the central tool for school evaluation in nations such as England (which tests at a few grades), Wales (which tests only at grade 5, with no stakes), and New Zealand (which has only a national exam like the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the United States).

This is a very different mind-set than in the United States. Instead of standardized test results, the core evaluation is a periodic comprehensive review covering the range of attributes parents and communities want for their schools. Here’s how it would work:

Each school is inspected at least once every five years. Schools facing difficulties or needing major improvements are reviewed more frequently.

The SQR system utilizes professional teams of sufficient size and expertise to thoroughly and fairly evaluate each school.

Teams:

- provide high quality, independent evaluations of all aspects of school operations;
- make recommendations for improvement or appropriate interventions by the district or state; and
- refer the schools to needed assistance.

States train reviewers and ensure review quality. Inspectors might be state employees, consultants, or work for a private company under contract. Most are experienced educators, chiefly retired principals and teachers, along with some parents or community people.

Prior to an on-site visit, the SQR teams study existing data such as demographics, evidence of student learning and opportunity to learn, graduation and grade-promotion rates, school-climate surveys, teacher and staff qualifications, and school facilities and equipment.

The team then conducts a site visit of up to a week. Reviewers inspect the physical plant, sit in on classes, and examine student work (e.g., writing samples, other products, and, when possible, oral presentations and demonstrations of performance in the arts, music and science).

They interview students, teachers, and other staff members. They focus on such issues as leadership; professional collaboration, development and evaluation; the nature and quality of curriculum, instructional practices, and student work; school culture and climate; support systems in and out of school for both students and their families; and parent and community involvement in the school.

The SQR team then considers all the evidence in writing a public report that would include an evaluation and recommendations for improvement.

SQRs have been proposed by the politically diverse signers of the Broader, Bolder Agenda and are supported by a range of education organizations. We have encountered growing interest in Congress and the Administration. SQRs could become a pilot federal grant project for 10-15 states, focusing on the lowest-ranked 10-20% of schools. (Some of those schools would already be in "turnaround" programs, so the reviews could evaluate progress.)

English experts credit the inspectorate system with contributing to school improvement, though gains have been more difficult to win in the weakest schools, a situation parallel to that in the United States. Tying the reviews to sufficient funding and other support will be crucial.

Any project can have downsides. If Congress does not reduce the amount and weight of standardized tests toward what England or New Zealand do, an SQR could become a tool for enforcing the educationally damaging control high-stakes tests already exert over schools. It must be clear that the purpose and practice of the SQRs is a true comprehensive review of a school, not an inspection intended to intensify teaching to the test.

Finally, a national pilot project would need careful, independent review to ensure its quality and determine whether it makes a sufficiently valuable contribution to school improvement to continue and expand. We believe the results could be very positive, making this a wise investment even in tight fiscal times.

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Monty Neill and Gary Ratner have written more detailed papers on the SQR, available on the websites of FairTest and Citizens for Effective Schools. We gained valuable information from and recommend the chapter on inspectorates in Grading Education by Richard Rothstein and his colleagues.

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By Valerie Strauss  | October 8, 2010; 10:25 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, No Child Left Behind, School turnarounds/reform, Standardized Tests, Teacher assessment  | Tags:  assessing schools, evaluating schools, fairtest, monty neill, naep, nclb, no child left behind, school quality reviews, standardized tests, state tests  
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Comments

The Middle States Association has been in existence for many years and already does much of what is described here, for both public and private schools. It is non-profit and very well respected. I hope the authors here point out both the similarities and differences in their proposals.

I was at a school during one such 3-year assessment, and think it was much more worthwhile than NCLB, but there are the same issues present with any change: it is very time-consuming, and any improvements needed inevitably call for more funds.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | October 8, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

You know the Obama administration education department, with Arne Duncan as its head, would screw something like up.

Posted by: educationlover54 | October 8, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

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