Anthony Cody on Measuring Student Outcomes


This article can be read in full at Living in Dialogue.


This week a colleague at Teacher Leaders Network raised a provocative pair of questions.

1. In an era where numbers are currency, what alternative set of metrics and numbers (beyond assessment) can we suggest that reformers and policymakers consider when weighing teacher/school effectiveness? (ie: parent/student satisfaction surveys, levels of funding, graduation rate, rate of enrollment in AP classes, rate of employment or enrollment in college after graduation)

2. Given the limits of numerical accountability, what alternatives can we offer to reformers that are open to considering results that cannot be accounted for by a number? What are the softer variables that cannot be easily measured? (ie: student engagement, attitudes towards school, divergent thinking)

I have heard different forms of this conversation several times over the past few weeks. On the one side we have people, largely from the world of business, who have developed what seems to them a perfect way to improve our work. This method amounts to a four step cycle. First, set some measurable goals for ourselves. Then do our best to meet our goals. Then review our outcomes and see where we fell short and where we succeeded. Use this data to guide a revision to our methods so that our outcomes will improve.

This logic, coupled with the accountability mechanisms built into No Child Left Behind, have amounted to an almost irresistible set of pressures on teachers to become “data driven.” Some have succumbed, but many of us still resist, clinging to quaint ideals about the value of the whole child, the need for critical thinking and curiosity, and other things which are difficult to measure on standardized tests. But then we face a challenge, which my colleague has captured in these two questions.

What could possibly be wrong with the improvement model offered above? Lots of things. First of all, the data most readily available for measuring outcomes is usually standardized test scores. This leads us into the test preparation sinkhole most of our high needs schools find themselves, where instruction is continually narrowed to focus on improving those scores – to the detriment of many other learning goals that we value.

So then we get to the next question, which my colleague posed above. If we do not accept the test scores as an adequate marker of our effectiveness, what do we wish to offer in their place, since we must be accountable for student learning in some concrete and measurable way?

I believe that any answer to this must encompass the complexity of learning, and of our goals as educators.

The way I get my mind around this is to think about the ways that I have seen teachers take responsibility for student learning in meaningful ways. I cannot discuss this in the abstract. So here are some real models of authentic assessment.

To read further, go to Anthony Cody’s regular column, Living in Dialogue.

2 thoughts on “Anthony Cody on Measuring Student Outcomes

  1. In Seattle, for groups of educationally disadvantaged learners, the current plan is a disaster. The District is taking money and spending it outside the classroom on “Accountability Instruments”. The result is we know how badly things are going but the leadership clings to a belief that minimally guided instruction can work for all students.

    There is clear evidence that minimally guided instruction is not working. The District fails to offer a mechanism for effective interventions, and fails to deliver enough explicit instruction to correct the situation. Struggling students continue to struggle and an increasing percentage of students are struggling.

    There is no accountability for leadership for continuing these disastrous choices.

    Please oppose further damage to our schools by contacting the state legislature in opposition to HB 1443. Schools need more boots on the ground not more generals. Decreasing teacher autonomy is hardly a solution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s