by Matthew Weyers
In a recent staff meeting, we were given a task:
“If you had to come up with some kind of a scale for student–and school–performance, between 0-100, with a 100 being a perfect student, how would you do it? Design your system in such a way that the world would look at your school as the model of a perfect school if all of your kids were very close to 100 on your metric.”
Yikes. This got me thinking about how we define success in school. My first reaction was that the shift in philosophy and pedagogy required to move to a numeric evaluation system would be astronomic. It would require schools to move away from the traditional “Big Three” indicators of student and school success: standardized test scores, student G.P.A. and graduation rates.
On a surface level (and in the eyes of the public) these three metrics are perfectly aligned with what traditional educational experiences define as success. But a shift to a new set of metrics might not be terribly difficult to achieve.
The Context For Change: The Innovation Economy
If internet access makes knowledge a free commodity, then schools would ideally prepare students for an innovation economy.
In an innovation economy success is not defined not by having the most expensive degree or graduation from prestigious universities, but by the ability to know yourself, thinking critically, create and apply knowledge, and to literally create your own job if necessary.
1. Strong Student Understanding of “Self”
How well do students know themselves? Do they understand how they react in specific situations? Their self-perception versus how others perceive them? Are they more prone to taking the big risk or taking the safer, more secure route?
Do they understand what gives them happiness? Is it the big promotion/letter grade or the feeling they have created a unique product or experience, even if it comes with little personal recognition? More importantly, are they able to use this knowledge to continually put themselves in positions to succeed in college or in the workforce?
One Solution: Learning models and curriculum that is student-centered and at least partially self-directed
2. Soft Skills Development
Are students able to successfully work in teams? Do they collaborate well? Are students willing to take leadership roles when needed and provide support when not? How well are students able to communicate both in verbal and written form? Do they exhibit a positive attitude wherever they go?
One Solution: To facilitate soft-skill growth in students, school-wide initiatives to incorporate group work via Project-Based Learning (PBL) could be put in place. Group-based PBL can force students to think outside their individual needs for the good of the group. Students who traditionally take leadership roles may need to learn to compromise on their ideas, and people who are usually followers may need to develop their leadership capacity.
3. Analysis of Academic Performance at District Level
A crucial piece school districts often miss is knowing how well their students actually achieve in college or the workforce (versus predictive measures). What percentage of students who enter college graduate within 4-5 years? How many students need to take remedial courses as freshman? What percentage of students are able to secure and maintain a full-time position in their desired field?
One Solution: Districts could track post-graduation student achievement on college and career readiness by utilizing currently developed infrastructure like Facebook and LinkedIn to contact alumni on an annual basis. (There’s gotta be an app for this.)
The questions on the surveys would be designed to find the time it took to graduate college, level of happiness at the workplace, the nature of the work performed measured against some kind of social need, and the ability find a position in their desired field while “earning a living.” Over a period of time, the feedback would provide districts a generalized list of potential skill deficiencies they could work to address with their current students, if only in regards to skills.
Even absent literally assigning a numerical value to each of the above factors (33.33% each?), the above factors do reflect a shift in thinking that is hopefully in the right direction. After gathering several years worth of data, the real test would be having districts ask employers who they would rather hire: someone who is able to provide a transcript documenting their school success, or someone who is able to thoughtfully articulate how their strengths, weaknesses, personality, and work ethic would seamlessly fit into their organization?
Their response would be tremendously helpful in revising any system developed from these factors, in addition to similar metrics from community members, organizational leaders, and the like. In an innovation economy, success will depend on connectivity, creativity, and collaboration. Academic accountability systems derived from single-minded sources of data are no longer sufficient.
Image attribution flickr user shamhardy and chessmediagroup; 3 Factors For Balanced Accountability In An Innovation Economy