How School Leaders Can Improve Measurement Use in Schools

Jan 28, 2016 2:00:00 PM Justin Barbaro Education Trends

A December blogpost from Global Advisory Council Member Sridhar Rajagopalan identified the need for education to develop personalized instructional tools for students, much the same way that medicine has evolved into a science capable of meeting the needs of individual patients. Complementary to this line of reasoning is an obligation for practitioners and researchers in education to critically evaluate modern medical advances to identify any potential unintended consequences in the development of education’s own Science of Learning. Illuminating this need in a recent New York Times opinion piece, professor Robert M. Watcher details the ways in which measurement in both education and medicine is currently, “hitting the targets, but missing the point”, including a lack of targeted measures, a death of research comparing the results of interventions across different populations, and a failure to minimize the burden that measurement places on professionals.

Below are three actionable steps intended to guide the thinking of school and school system leaders regarding measurement as we build towards a Science of Learning in education:

Use context to drive data needs. Schools and school systems may vary dramatically in the number of students, student demographics, and identified needs. School and school system leaders need to work with site-based education professionals to develop organic quantitative and qualitative measures of student achievement designed to gather robust data on diagnosed and prioritized criteria. 

Provide resources (and empathy) to promote data usage. Constant data-driven reflection to drive practice can zap the energy and brainpower of even the most committed education professionals. School and school system leaders need to act mindfully regarding what supports can ease the cognitive burden of this work.

Let readymade measurements mature. Value-Added Modeling (VAMs), or the use of student test scores to measure and improve teacher quality, may someday represent the gold-standard in teacher evaluation; however, even the minds who create such measures admit that such models, “do not by themselves have implications for optimal teacher salaries or merit pay policies” (Chetty et al., 2011, pg. 51) at this point in their development. Regarding action, school and school system leaders need to exercise restraint with using VAMs as these measures alone are not ready to guide policy or practice just yet.