Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Educational Boxscores

I love baseball.  My wife and I are both huge Boston Red Sox fans, however, with our two little daughters, life can be pretty busy and we don't always get to watch their games (at least not all of them).  So what do I do?  In the morning, over a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal, I skip the news and head to the sports pages to read the box scores.  Living in Canada, if you don't follow the Blue Jays, you tend not to get much more than a "BOS 3 NYY 1" (ahhh, beating the Yankees IS so sweet).  I often long for more detail because I know that this score really tells me very little about the game.  But with respect to other teams, I am pretty content just to look at see the score--hmmm, the Mariners are losing again, Atlanta is struggling, and those darn Yankees are in first.  I get my snapshot and go on with the rest of my day because that is the data that is presented to me, and I don't really have the time (and in some cases the interest) to look into it much further.

Currently, I am reading "Accountability for Learning" by Douglas Reeves. In his book, Reeves describes the concept of holistic accountability and finding antecedents of excellence in schools and instruction.  He also talks of the test results that we so often use to judge students, teachers, administrators, and school performance: he describes these as the "educational box score", very analogous to the box score that I read on so many morning over my breakfast cup of joe.  Reeves says:

"Why do we reduce the art and science of teaching to a litany of test scores?  The easy response is to blame a cabal of politicians and administrators, or to expand the conspiracy theory to include big business and the entertainment industry.  But the role of victim is unworthy of the teaching profession, and we must do better.  Why has accountability been reduced to a litany of test scores?  Because WE have failed to tell our story."

I could not agree more with Douglas Reeves.  I moan about the Fraser Institute Reports because they are not remotely representative of what schools actually do--they use some complex formula that combines test scores, parent socioeconomic status, graduation rates, and the cycle of the moon (ok, the first three were true, the last one I am only guessing on because of the FI's degree of accuracy).  Provincial exam scores drive me crazy because they are such a narrow measure of a student learning.  I can only imagine my counterparts in the United States and their frustration with standardized testing. 
But what am I using to tell the story of our school?  Test scores and failure rates.  Not good enough.

In his book, Reeves suggests a number of items that could be included at the school level, including measurable practices in
  • teaching
  • leadership
  • parent involvement
  • extracurricular activities
  • school based indicators that reflect decisions of teachers, parents, and administrators
He also describes schools having narratives that connect these indicators to district initiatives, and describe other things about their building that are not able to be measured quantitatively.

After reading his book, I realize that I cannot continue to publish the box score for my school.  While test scores and failure rates are positive for our students, they do little to describe the successes that I see every day in our students and in our staff.  I need to change this.  I have to work collaboratively with each of the stakeholders in our school to find the antecedents of success, and then use these to tell the story of our school.

So my question to investigate is, "What are the key descriptors of success at my school?"

What are yours?

Reeves, D (2004). Accountability for Learning. How Teachers and School Leaders Can Take Charge.  ASCD. Alexandra, VA. 


  1. Interesting post. I wanted to make a quick comment on your last two questions.

    I have been in quite a few schools over the last little while for a number of reasons both personal and professional. One of the "key descriptors" I would use is the "feel of the school." I know this is not quantifiable but you can walk into a school and you get a feel for the place. Some schools feel stuffy, some feel welcoming, some feel like a business and some feel like a place you would want to hang out and stay a while. I am not sure how you measure it but I would never underestimate the power of the "feel" in the building.

  2. Some key descriptors are, "Do people feel welcome in your school?" "Do students feel safe?" You could take any number of questions that are typically used on a school improvement report and use to help assess your school.

    As Sir Ken Robinson states, "Learning is not linear, it's organic." I like this because it describes how learning is so varied. A standardized test has a place but is NOT the only element that describes a child's learning.

    Good post keep up the good work.


  3. On line learning and other forms of distance education provide some insight as to the “type” of school we have. With so many educational mediums to access for parents and students, a great question to ask is why students and parents are choosing brick and mortar school as opposed to the various options available to them.

    As a small rural school (yet close enough to larger schools), our clientèle demands the options and variety large schools offer, yet a safe and personable environment. When students and parents feel this is not being offered, many look at accessing other options.

    To me, students have the greatest insight into what makes a good school and why they want to attend. When they choose other options, a simple and insightful question to ask is...why? The answers can be simple, profound and shocking.

    Go Jays....

  4. The narrow focus of a ranking system misleads and undermines the tremendous work of the students, staff and parents both present and past of a school learning community.

    I would ask that people evaluate our school based on big picture reality rather than a narrowly focused ranking system.

    We pride ourselves on our successes and embrace idea that young adults come to us with varied skills, talents, and blessings – our mandate is to meet the needs of the individual child so that they develop spiritually, academically, physically, and emotionally.

    As one student said to me recently: " I really like the fact that I can come to school and be accepted for you who I am - not who someone else expects me to be"

  5. Great post Cale!

    So much is lost when we narrow our focus on one or two aspects of measurement through test scores. I think there is a place for academic measurement, as long as it is taken with in the context of the relationships we develop, the mutual respect we show one another, the individuality that is allowed to flourish in a safe and caring environment.

    I agree with Richard - every school has a 'feel' and it doesn't take long to figure out what that 'feel' is. Not everything is within the schools sphere of influence so sometimes the lack of success is beyond our control. Likewise, we can end up taking credit for successes we've had little/no direct responsibility for.

    There has to be more to school that just academic proficiency; the world is filled with highly literate and highly numeric people who have committed crimes and ripped people off. "Proficiency with a positive purpose" would be the way I would phrase it; that "purpose" is the intangible that can't always be measured. Thanks!


Thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog!