Common Principles for Uncommon Schools

Horace Teacher Research

A Consumer’s Guide to Those “Standardized” Test Scores

How much attention should you pay to test scores? “A test score alone offers too little information to make meaning of it,” says Paul LeMahieu of the University of Delaware, who also directs research and development for Delaware’s education department and has written extensively about the purposes and techniques of different forms of assessment. Before rushing to actions aimed at

A Multiple Choice for Parents: How do you want your child’s learning to be measured?

When parents get to leaf through the test items by which their children are sorted and ranked against each other- or when they sit down and endure an hour or two of taking the actual tests their children take-many are struck by how ambiguous the questions are, and how trivial and arbitrary as a summary of learning. What follows is

A Selected Research Bibliography

Bruer, John T., Schools for Thought: A Science of Learning in the Classroom. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993. Bryk, Anthony S. and Driscoll, M. E., The High School as Community: Contextual Influences, and Consequences for Students and Teachers. Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison, National Center on Effective Secondary Schools, 1988. Bryk, A. S. et al., A View from the Elementary Schools:

Advisory Program Research and Evaluation

This article reviews the research literature to bolster the case for advisory and demonstrate that putting it at the core of a school is worth the investment. Lessons from CES schools also reveal the importance of a cycle of collaborative inquiry when planning and implementing advisory. At its heart, advisory forges connections among students and the school community, creating conditions

Common Measures: Collecting the Basic Data

To document their progress, many schools routinely collect statistics on the following “common measures” (compiled by Harvard University doctoral candidate Molly Schen). When Essential schools join in doing so, they make possible useful comparisons to larger databases.  Who are we? – Number of students – Percentage of students of different races and ethnicities – Percentage of students eligible for free

Common Measures: What Students Feel About Essential Schools

These responses were requested from students in nine Essential Schools–both students who participated in Essential School activities (called “ES students” here) and those who did not. Surveys were given to an equal number of ES and non-ES students in each school, but responses came in from 427 ES students and 185 non-ES students. (The statistics that result have been adjusted

Common Measures: What Teachers Feel About Essential Schools

These responses were gathered from 1,762 teachers in 46 Essential schools, by Kyle Peck, a professor of education at Pennsylvania State University. The survey was commissioned by the Coalition as a pilot study only–intended not to be conclusive but to explore what questions might be usefully asked in a continuing survey to be launched by the Coalition’s Taking Stock effort

Crash Gordon Takes a Test (and the community decides what’s fair and credible)

Talking with a lay audience about whether different kinds of student assessments are credible and useful, Kate Jamentz of the Western Assessment Collaborative at WestEd likes to use this little test-taking fiction: Crash Gordon has been enrolled in Fly-by-Nite Pilot School for three weeks. The school promises that by successfully completing this course, Crash will be ready to pilot 747

Demonstrating Student Performance in Essential Schools

How do you recognize a good school? Test scores tell us something, but not enough. We need instead an array of evidence that students are-or are not-learning the things that matter. And the public must join school people to understand and weigh that evidence, then plan together how to improve the work of our students. A FEW MORE HARD-WON triumphs

Do State Curricula and Tests Work? A Case History from the New York Regents

Those interested in what effects state curriculum standards and testing can have on student learning might study the history of the New York State Regents examination system, a long-standing example of a state-mandated curriculum and testing program. Though it is now undergoing a major revision toward a more performance-oriented model, the Regents system for years dictated a wide range of

Documenting Whole-School Change in Essential Schools

What actually changes in Essential schools? Reporting and reflecting on the answers can supply long-term data to guide new decisions. But to be helpful, such information must reveal the interrelated aspects of change, and provide many lenses through which to look for evidence of success. If they just asked the right questions, students in the Research and Development class at

Essential Schools’ Performance: Some Preliminary Figures

(Note: Schools in different states and communities collect data in different ways, and students are selected for Essential School programs in different ways. Cross-district comparisons are invalid; bear in mind that these data may legitimately be compared only for past performances or to general districtwide data collected in the same manner. What follows is a sampling of records submitted by

Failure by Design: Why Tests Don’t Show What Students Can Do

No standardized, norm-referenced test, assert Coalition leaders Theodore R. Sizer and Deborah Meier, can measure the real payoff from serious study-“an examined and useful life,” as Sizer puts it-nor can it describe the good school that works to achieve that end. “Any assessment that correlates poorly with a student’s intellectual future offends us, putting stress on teachers and students and

Fix the Problem, Not the Blame: Engaging the Public in School Accountability

Improving “accountability” by merely adopting new and enlightened assessments like portfolios and exhibitions will not go far, Paul LeMahieu contends in a number of recent published articles. Instead, schools and communities must come together in events that promote the honest disclosure and weighing of good evidence, planning, and action. The “accountability events” he urges are a process of continuous and

Graduating by Exhibition: One School’s Plan

Many Essential high schools have worked out ways to publicly demonstrate their students’ readiness for graduation-ways that reflect both their community’s own values as to what students should know and be able to do and their belief that depth and thoughtfulness, not coverage, must govern the curriculum. At Anzar High School near Monterey, California, students take junior and senior years

In California, Portfolios of Whole-School Progress

California asks all schools involved in its School Restructuring Initiative to continually document their progress toward four key goals: developing habits of inquiry through examining student work; impacting the whole school in that process; addressing the learning needs of every student; and engaging the district in their effort. Schools do this all year long (for several years), compiling a School

Longitudinal Research Indicates CES Graduate Collegiate Success

Graduates are among the most valuable sources of information for schools committed to developing educational programs that make an enduring difference in students’ lives. Schools often gather graduates’ feedback informally, gleaning what they can when alumni show up for reunions or Alumni Day or stay in touch via casual visits, email, phone calls, and chance neighborhood encounters. But schools can’t

Horace: Teacher Research Published: April 9, 2006 By: Jill Davidson Topics: Teacher Research

Measuring the Strength of a Professional Community

Recent highly regarded studies from the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research have pointed to how strongly the presence of “professional community” affects authentic student achievement. In a professional community, researchers posited, teachers pursue a clear shared purpose for all students’ learning, engage in collaborative work to achieve that purpose, and take collective responsibility for student learning. Coalition researcher Peggy MacMullen

More Information and Readings on Documenting School Change

From the Coalition of Essential Schools (510-433-1451) David Allen, “The Tuning Protocol: A Process for Reflection.” David Allen and Joseph McDonald, “Keeping Student Performance Central: The New York Assessment Collection.” Kathleen Cushman, “What Research Suggests about Essential School Ideas.” Horace Vol. 11, No. 3, March 1995. Peggy MacMullen, “Taking Stock: The Impact of Reform.” David Niguidula, “The Digital Portfolio: A

One School’s Alternative for Recording Student Learning

Like several other schools in California’s “Transitions” project, Homestead High School in Cupertino is developing an alternative transcript that more accurately reflects the school’s interdisciplinary courses, project-based learning, and performance-based assessments. Homestead plans to accompany the above with a list of interdisciplinary programs and courses and summaries of the school’s expectations, performance standards, rubrics, and other relevant data. In addition,

Qualitative Questions to Help Assess Essential Schools

These questions were used by a 1988 Committee on Evaluation chaired by Gerald Grant of Syracuse University, charged in 1988 with assessing the progress of the Coalition of Essential Schools. Because they are qualitative rather than quantitative research questions, they can provoke useful thought as schools and outsiders look at Essential School changes in individual situations. What would you say

Sidebar: Tracking Student Success from Experimental Schools: The Eight-Year Study from the 1930’s

Horace editor note: The following sidebar appeared in an issue of Horace entitled “Taking Stock: How Are Essential Schools Doing?” published in 1991. The first volume of the Eight Year Study is online at Has anyone ever tried to find out systematically whether what students do in high school really matters when they go on to college? The answer

Horace: Teacher Research Published: April 9, 2006 By: Topics: Cycle of Inquiry, Teacher Research

Some Key Findings that Support Essential School Ideas

How personal the secondary school environment is matters more than any other single factor in encouraging students’ engagement and their willingness to work hard on academic goals. When teachers connect with and understand their students’ families, cultures, and life outside school, students achieve at higher levels. (McLaughlin 1993) At all achievement levels students prefer an active classroom role, and this

Some Ways to Document Change in Schools

– Data describing common and uncommon measures – Surveys of teachers, students, administrators, and community – Classroom observations using commonly held rubrics for authentic teaching and learning – Public exhibitions of student work – Compilations of student work to illustrate different performance levels – School portfolios – School quality review teams – “Tuning protocols” examining student work – Curriculum materials

State Assessment Systems: A Report Card

One-third of state public school testing systems need a complete overhaul and another third need major improvements if they are to provide support for high quality teaching and learning, according to a new study by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), which evaluated assessment practices in all 50 states against standards endorsed by more than 80 organizations