How individual teachers use data on student performance to adapt their teaching to meet student needs significantly determines their effectiveness. But this Step in the KEYS-CSI process focuses on the collective analysis of student performance across the school and across subjects. The primary purpose of this Step is to identify priorities for school improvement.
This step of the CSI process addresses two tasks:
Using a Framework for Assessment
Analyzing the Evidence
There is considerable evidence that the most effective schools develop a rich means of regularly assessing student learning for purposes of school-wide improvement
Much of the recent research on organizational change, whether it focuses on schools or other types of organizations, shows that effective organizations engage in collaborative problem solving focused on the systematic analysis of the gap between organizational goals and organizational performance. This means that effective organizations must continually call into question what is being accomplished and how the organization does its work. In highly effective schools, improvement focuses on challenges that are illuminated by continuing assessment of the differences between goals for student learning and development and actual student outcomes.
The process of examining student performance and the conditions that influence effective teaching and learning, (e.g. as does the KEYS-CSI process) creates dissonance or disequilibrium that must be resolved. Effective organizations use the stress and tension that derives from continually reexamining both processes and goals in positive ways. Schools that effectively manage the tension and stress around the need to improve do so by fostering continuous learning for both school staff members and students. Hence, it has become common to describe effective schools as "Learning Organizations".
What continuous assessment means in specific terms will vary from school to school, as a profusion of methods are available, including the use of running records, “tuning protocols,” looking at student work, lesson study, the inquiry cycle, and many others. The particular procedures that a school adopts matter less than how they embody the basic principles of evidence-based decision-making:
- Assessment must be integrated or aligned with goals and standards, so that the information provided is directly relevant to the learning that is desired.
- Information upon which assessment are based must be supplied in timely and transparent fashion so that teachers can use it in their work.
- Assessments are public and collective. Teachers come together as a community to work out assessments that all will participate in; and the school must create regular opportunities for teachers to present and discuss evidence of student learning in public forums.
Effective schools schedule time for such collaborative assessment practice, making it integral to the work-day and week. Further, building school capacity to make use of evidence is likely to be a priority for school-wide initiatives, including professional development.
Successful schools develop complementary formal and informal assessments and build these into the flow of instruction and other school improvements. Problem solving begins with evidence of the gap between goals and standards and learning outcomes. What does the evidence reveal? Consider, for example, a range of possible outcomes of an analysis of student literacy in relation to high priority goals. Reading achievement seems acceptable overall but disaggregated results show substantial gaps between poor and minority students in the school and their white, middle class counterparts. Or while certain component literacy skills look solid, others are deficient (e.g., students can decode text but when asked comprehension questions, they often stumble). Or more contentiously, third grade results look solid, but fourth grade achievement is deficient. Or, that teachers’ informal assessments of learning do not confirm what external test results show.
Because the continuous school improvement process calls for new uses of assessment, which implies new learning on the part of school participants, leaders in successful schools actively create opportunities for the needed professional learning as an integral part of an overall approach to assessment. Furthermore, the school schedule must, and school social. Norms of trust, reciprocity, risk taking, and conflict management rather than avoidance, autonomy and privacy must be established gradually in the school’s culture.
In most cases, schools will need to improve the ways that they work with evidence as the fundamental basis for progress. Assessment becomes a central, driving force in the school, moving front and center. To accommodate this shift schools consider:
- how time is organized to provide common time to examine assessment information,
- the development cultural norms that encourage teachers to open both their teaching and their students’ learning to public scrutiny,
- how the learning about and from assessment is acquired and made part of the regular working knowledge of teachers and administrators.
In short, effective schools learn how to work with evidence—particularly assessment of student learning—but including a wide range of indicators related to school functioning. Examining KEYS survey Indicator 3.1 (Student Assessment Is Used for Decision Making to Improve Learning), will provide some information about whether teachers in your school believe that student assessment data are used effectively in decision-making about teaching and learning issues. And, whether the school staff feels that it has the preparation it need to engage in problem solving and decision making is examined in KEYS survey Indicator 4.8.
Note: Click on the links in the left column for an interactive experience with this step of the process, or click the link below to download a Word version of this section.