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A downside of setting student academic results targets in schools

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When I reflect on the positives of working in my current school and share my thoughts with colleagues from other schools, they are often amazed when I tell them that we do not set specific targets for student results.

Our school does not have a specific average score that it needs to achieve from IB Diploma students or other standardized tests for that matter. I know that many schools have such targets and I have often contemplated the impact of doing so.

Performance targets can give us something to aim for and a school’s reputation may grow from it being able to say that their students received this result and that result, which makes them better than other ‘like’ schools. There is, however, a significant downside to being a results driven school based on student academic success.

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High Test Scores At A Nationally Lauded Charter Network, But At What Cost?

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Students get motivated during the morning “Launch” assembly.

Courtesy of Nikki David/Rocketship Education

Since its inception nearly a decade ago in Silicon Valley, Rocketship has been among the most nationally applauded charter networks, hailed as an innovative model of blended learning.

Founder John Danner, who made a fortune in Internet advertising, originally envisioned enrolling 1 million students by 2020, relying on the strength of three pillars — “personalized learning” with software, excellent teachers and parent involvement — to raise the achievement of underserved students.

Today there are 13 Rocketship schools, with 6,000 students, in the San Francisco Bay Area, Nashville, Tenn., and Milwaukee, with one scheduled to open in Washington, D.C., this fall. The students, largely low-income and Hispanic, outperform their peers on state tests.

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The State That Pulled The Plug On Computer Testing

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Tens of thousands of Tennessee students steadied their clammy, test-day hands over a keyboard several days ago. And, for many, nothing happened.

It was the state’s first time giving standardized exams on computers, but the rollout couldn’t have gone much worse.

In lots of places, the testing platform slowed to a crawl or appeared to shut down entirely. Within hours, Tennessee scrapped online testing for the year.

The move comes after schools spent millions of dollars to buy additional PCs and to improve their wi-fi networks.

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To Measure What Tests Can’t, Some Schools Turn To Surveys

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Stuart Kinlough/Corbis

Last year, Susan Avey, the principal of Bogle Junior High School in Chandler, Ariz., had a heart-to-heart with one of her new teachers about how he was relating to students.

In a previous year, this might have been a conversation based on subjective impressions. The teacher might have gotten defensive. But this year, Avey had a new tool up her sleeve: a survey of her students.

“He came in to talk to me and said, ‘I felt like I had really good relationships with kids, but reading my comments, I was surprised that I wasn’t rated as highly.’ ”

Drilling down into the results, they found that the teacher’s relationships with girls, specifically, were weaker than those with the boys. The teacher was also a coach, and it turned out he liked to use a lot of sports analogies in class. Maybe that habit was missing the mark with non-sports enthusiasts?

This little data-driven aha moment is happening more often at schools around the country.

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No Child Left Behind: What Worked, What Didn’t

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The Elementary and Secondary Education Act hasn’t been updated since it was renamed “No Child Left Behind” in 2001 by President George W. Bush. The law was introduced by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 to help states level the playing field for students living and learning in poverty.

Matt Rourke/AP


Cross your fingers.

Congress is trying to do something it was supposed to do back in 2007: agree on a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It’s not controversial to say the law is in desperate need of an update.

The ESEA is hugely important, not just to our nation’s schools but to the social fabric. It pours billions of federal dollars each year into classrooms that serve low-income students. When President Lyndon Johnson first signed it in 1965, he declared the law “a major new commitment of the federal government to quality and equality in the schooling that we offer our young people.”

The ESEA is supposed to be updated every few years but hasn’t been rewritten since 2001, when another Texan, President George W. Bush, famously renamed it No Child Left Behind. Bush took Johnson’s original vision, to help states level the playing field for students living and learning in poverty, and added teeth.


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