Testing plus school inspections?

The English use school inspectors as well as centralized testing to provide feedback to principals, inform parents and identify “serious weakness,” writes Iftikhar Hussain in Education Next.

Inspectors visit schools once in three to six years. They observe classes, interview school leaders, examine students’ work and talk to students and parents. In addition, students take a national test at age 7, 11, 14, and 16.

From 2006 to 2009, 13 percent of schools were rated Outstanding, 48 percent Good and 33 percent were Satisfactory. Six percent failed: 4.5 percent were moderate fails and 1.5 percent required “special measures.”

Schools that receive a moderate fail rating are subject to additional inspections, with an implicit threat of a downgrade to the severe fail category if inspectors judge improvements to be inadequate. Schools that receive the severe fail rating may experience more dramatic consequences: these can include changes in the school leadership team and the school’s governing board, increased resources, as well as increased oversight from the inspectors.

Inspector ratings are correlated with student- and parent-reported measures of school quality, even after controlling for test-score results and other school characteristics, writes Hussain.

Fail ratings lead to test score improvements that are especially large for the lowest-scoring students, Hussain finds.  “These results are consistent with the view that children of low-income parents, arguably the least vocal in holding teachers accountable, benefit the most from inspections.”

Some U.S. education reformers see school inspectors as a way to hold schools accountable without relying exclusively on test scores.

Empowering the best, testing the rest

How can we “create an accountability system that empowers excellent educators to create top-notch schools while ensuring a basic level of quality for everyone?” asks Fordham’s Mike Petrilli on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

Petrilli once believed that “educator autonomy, plus parental choice, would lead us to the Promised Land.”  At Fordham, which embraced “let a thousand flowers bloom,” he helped plant a few charters in Dayton, Ohio. The “flowers that turned out to be, err, more like skunk cabbage.”

Empowering educators was necessary, but not sufficient, he concluded.

You can’t just empower anyone—you have to empower a team of people who actually know what they are doing. And these people, collectively, must have the capacity to run a great school. They need to have a coherent pedagogical vision, know how to build a curriculum, know how to create a positive school culture, know how to build and follow a sensible budget, know how to put reasonable “internal controls” in place, know how to recruit a great staff, and on and on. These people, it turns out, are scarcer than I had realized at age 22.

And then you have to hold these schools accountable for getting strong results with kids.

The charter movement started with the idea that each school would commit to the results it would achieve, customizing the metrics to the school’s goals, writes Petrilli. In response to No Child Left Behind, charter leaders agreed to take the same exams and be judged by test scores like other public schools.

Petrilli suggests keeping testing and accountability as the default system, but with better standards and tests.

Students are tested annually; schools are held accountable for making solid progress from September to June, with greater progress expected for students who are further behind. States and districts give these schools lots of assistance—with curriculum development, teacher training, and the like. Such a default system won’t lead to widespread excellence, but it will continue to raise the floor so that the “typical” school in America becomes better than it is today.

All public schools—district and charter—could opt out by proposing a different set of accountability measures that might reflect the long-term success of their graduates or the willingness to face school “inspections.”

Fooling the inspector

Britain’s school inspectors are easily deceived, writes Theodore Dalrymple  in City Journal, citing the Times Educational Supplement.

. . . once the principals know that an inspection is coming, many employ techniques such as paying disruptive pupils to stay home, sending bad pupils on day trips to amusement parks, pretending to take disciplinary action against bad teachers, drafting well-regarded teachers temporarily from other schools, borrowing displays of student work done in other schools, and so forth.

The inspectorate will begin making unannounced inspections.

Britain’s school inspectorate should be a model for the U.S., argues a recent Education Sector report.

On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service

Evaluating schools based on test scores satisfies few people. There’s another way, writes Ed Sector’s Craig Jerald in On Her Majesty’s School Inspection Service. In England, school inspectors visit each school.

The process is thorough and rigorous: “[I]nspectors observe classroom lessons, analyze student work, speak with students and staff members, examine school records, and scrutinize the results of surveys administered to parents and students,” he notes.

A school inspectorate could work in the U.S., Jerald argues.

Perpetuating a 'cult of failure'

Britain’s school inspectors, known as Ofsted, perpetuate a “hidden cult of failure,” writes Harriet Sergeant in The Times. A policy researcher, Sergeant wrote a book on why working-class white and black Caribbean boys are doing so poorly in school.

One day last summer I found myself sharing a table with three seven-year-olds in an inner-city primary school. It was chaos. The three children were giggling, kicking each other and chatting. . . . Somewhere on the periphery of our vision, the teacher walked about, struggling to keep order. Elsewhere, behind our heads, hung a whiteboard with work on it — gleefully ignored.

. . . When I helped Cedric, the boy next to me, with his comprehension, I got a shock. He could barely read, let alone write an answer to the question. He shrugged, threw a rubber at the girl with the bobbles and was sent out of the class.

It was the last straw. I liked Cedric, who was obviously bright. I forgot I was meant to be an observer and confronted the teacher. Instead of sending children out, I said, why not improve discipline and concentration? We could rearrange the tables to face her and she could stand in front of the board. She looked at me with horror. “The pupils are working together, directing their own learning,” she said, her voice almost drowned by noise. Had I not appreciated what was going on?

Inspected schools fill out a self-evaluation report, a former inspector, “Amy,” tells Sergeant.  Of 48,000 words, 12 deal with promoting, but not necessarily achieving, “basic skills” in literacy and numeracy.

Ofsted orders inspectors to concentrate on social welfare, behaviour and attendance. They have to check if children are “independent learners” in charge of their own education and if a child enjoys “ownership” of its work. Work should not be corrected in red ink by the teacher.

. . .  “I spend more time looking in children’s lunch boxes then testing their literacy,” (Amy says).  In the topsy-turvy world of state education a fizzy drink causes more horror than poor spelling.

Schools must show they’re promoting “community cohesion,” defined by religion, ethnicity, culture and economic class.

If most students are low-income or non-white — or if the school has too many boys — expectations are lowered by the “deprivation factor,” so the school can get a satisfactory rating despite low achievement.

In theory, school inspectors should be able to get beyond test scores to evaluate a school’s effectiveness and suggest ways to improve. But there’s not much point if the inspectors aren’t going to focus on how well children are learning reading, writing, math, history, geography, civics and science.

Via To Miss With Love.