Ask parents, educators, researchers, policy makers, investors: What defines a successful student, a good school, a high functioning district, or a state with a great education system? You’ll get a wide range of answers. Some will be based on personal experience, some on quantitative evidence. Some will refer to quality standards achievable by improving what goes on in schools and school systems, and some will include quality indicators well outside educators’ sphere of influence.
How, then, do we proceed toward a coherent, compelling, and practical way to measure and report education quality for everyone who has a stake in education outcomes? We use three rules to help our partners tackle this difficult challenge:
All education quality measures must lead back to student success: Whether we’re looking at a student, teacher, school, school system, or state, information on education quality must include, and only include, measures shown to impact students’ academic performance and commitment and the quality of their learning experience. For example, we include measures of instructional quality in our information systems but do not include per-student expenditures. What goes on in classrooms strongly correlates with how students do in school and their beliefs about learning; how much money is spent per student does not.
Results of all measures included in quality reporting must be valid and reliable enough to be credible to all stakeholders: Some comprehensive quality reports include standardized test performance, student attendance, graduation rates, survey measures, and observational ratings. Do consumers, ranging from educated to expert, believe: a) these measures capture what’s important about education quality; b) the measures are sufficiently accurate; and c) the data were collected responsibly and the analysis was sound? We pay meticulous attention to these questions so that data are credible and the results worth acting upon.
Address what is pertinent and possible for educators to influence.: In assessing education quality, we must resist the inclination to address circumstances over which educators and educational systems have little or no control, such as freedom from poverty, neighborhood crime, or the education levels of parents. This does not mean these issues don’t bear on student success or that there aren’t good measures of these issues. It means only that they are outside the influence of educators in their daily work with students and with one another. This rule bears on fairness and accountability: What educators at any level can reasonably be expected to provide is a quality education, not a quality life.
When we and our partners acknowledge these three rules at the outset, we can generate thoroughly credible, coherent, and useful data to educators.