Education data that compare students, teachers, or districts tell us little about quality and even less about how to improve it. Determine absolute standards of what constitutes quality, then assess the most current status of each student, school, district, or state against those standards.
Many of the best known and most widely used metrics of education quality use normative information to judge and communicate quality. They compare. Good quality means you are doing better than most. Great quality means you are doing better than all but a few. The problem with this approach is that comparative rankings do not tell parents, educators, and policy makers anything about what students know or are able to do, whether their experience of school is positive or negative, what practices teachers are using and how sound they are, or how a school system is contributing to or undermining student and teacher success. None of these key questions is answered by knowing where a student ranks in a group of students, where a school ranks in its metro area or state or against other schools with similar student populations, or where a state ranks in the country, yet we continue to rely on these normative approaches to make important personnel, policy, and financial decisions.
When we evaluate teacher and student quality on the curve, we are left asking: Is our best teacher a great teacher? Is our weakest teacher a poor one? Are our best students mastering all the important learning? Are students in our top 20% GPA truly ready to thrive academically in a good college or job? Whether for individual students or entire districts, we work to avoid normative comparisons altogether. We want key questions about quality addressed, not distorted, by the metrics. Toward that, we measure accomplishments, how well a student or district is doing, against a clear standard of excellence. Using this approach, what you see is what they did.
A Case in Point:
In one client’s’ state, the department of education ranks their schools based on a complex quantitative weighting of student academic performance, demographics, attendance, and graduation rates. These percentile rankings are widely disseminated. They are a source of pride and of despair for schools and their districts; they are used to justify accolades and sanctions by the state department of education; and they are reviewed by parents to make choices about where to live and send their children to school. In the most recent ranking of their schools, one high school ranked in the top 1%. In that school only 28% of its 11th grade students scored proficient or higher on the state math assessment. This was not a calculation error. There is a fundamental flaw in this approach to defineing and reporting education quality.
Measuring What Matters
Practical measures that get you credible and actionable results.
Measuring What Matters tools provide practical measures of the most critical factors impacting student learning and educator practice. These measures have been field-tested and optimized over the last 25 years in more than 100 schools and thousands of classrooms across the country.