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Education Opinion

“Simon says, ‘Touch the sky’”

By LeaderTalk Contributor — March 25, 2009 2 min read

“Simon says, ‘Touch the sky’”
Meg Dimmett (age 3)

Read a little about the current state of education and you will likely encounter explicit statements decrying the state of our schools and our emphasis on standardized measures of student achievement. I, too, struggle frequently with traditional education’s focus on these one-size fits all summative assessments. My recent work with district administrators has sought to shift the focus beyond the usual metrics to also include measures of engagement, leadership, and collaboration. What does it look like to measure student achievement in more expansive terms? How do we retool evaluation so that our work fosters the kind of creativity and curiosity that allows a young child to think she can touch the sky? These are difficult questions to be sure, but the power of answering them holds much promise for the future of our schools.

When do students stop asking questions? How do curious young people turn into sometimes apathetic, disenfranchised teens and adults? My untested hypothesis is that our drive to standardize learning and assessments is part of the answer to these questions. What can we do differently? Would measures of student engagement provide information that would be helpful in modifying what we teach and how we teach it? What could be gained from focusing some of our efforts on incorporating student voices in the conversation about education?

The short answer is much can be gained from student inclusion in the design, delivery, and evaluation of learning. A good example of a student engagement measure is the High School Survey of Student Engagement. High Schools That Work provides similar information through limited surveys of students in participating schools. Another approach worth exploring comes from the Quaglia Institute for Student Aspirations (QISA). QISA promotes Three Guiding Principals, a focus on self-worth, active engagement, and purpose. In a survey of approximately 500,000 students in grades six through twelve, QISA reports some astounding statistics.

-"Teachers care about me as an individual: 45%"
-"Teachers respect students: 51%"
-"School is boring: 46%"
-"My classes help me understand what is happening in my everyday life: 40%"
-"Teachers make school an exciting place to learn: 32%"
-"I know the goals my school is working on: 37%"

On a slightly more positive note, the survey indicated that 63% of student respondents believe they can make a difference in this world.

What does all this mean? If we take the six previously noted statements alone, turn them into objectives, and establish target percentages, what changes would take place in the average school? What can be gained by having more students know the school goals, or, better yet, help determine those goals? What does a school look like when 80% or more of students believe their classes help them understand their everyday life? What does a school feel like when 80% or more of students believe teachers care about them? Furthermore, how successful are students when 80% or more of them believe school is an exciting place to learn?

By listening to student voices and responding to only a few such metrics, much can be gained in the area of student learning, and it’s possible that more students will believe they can touch the sky.

Dave Dimmett

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.