School & District Management

Audit Program Seeks Out Traits Found in Successful Schools

By Alan Richard — April 07, 2004 2 min read
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Kentucky’s scholastic audits have grown increasingly popular in the Bluegrass State. Now, other states are borrowing the approach as they look for ways to ratchet up interventions to help schools improve and thus meet accountability goals under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The lowest one-third of public schools in Kentucky, as rated every two years using test scores, must submit to either a “scholastic audit” or a “review” under a state law passed in 1999.

Schools rated in the lowest category among that one-third of schools face mandatory scholastic audits.

Other schools rated slightly higher, but still among the lowest third, face mandatory reviews, which are similar to audits, except that the outside teams visiting those schools consist of educators only. Audit teams at the lowest-rated schools must include parents, along with educators.

In a scholastic audit, trained teams of six members spend about four days in a school, interviewing every campus employee at least once, along with parents, students, and administrators.

Having parents on the teams makes the audits stronger, said Mary Ann Cardin, a parent who has served on several audit teams and is the chairwoman of the school board in the 2,000-student Spencer County system, south of Louisville, Ky.

“Just working with these people on our team was a wealth of information, and I sometimes had a perspective they didn’t have,” she said.

During audits, Ms. Cardin added, “teachers would always say parents aren’t involved. We would say, ‘What are you doing to encourage it?’ ”

The teams use nine guiding standards and 88 specific indicators of performance as the audit criteria. Those nine standards include factors that Kentucky policymakers consider crucial when judging school quality, including leadership, school culture, and instructional practices.

Under each of the nine standards, audit teams address the 88 indicators of school performance. For example, a team may look for student work to be posted throughout hallways and classrooms as an example of building a warm school culture.

Schools See Value

Before they leave, the audit teams present their findings in school meetings with staff members. The final presentation is professional but frank, team members say.

Veteran audit-team members add that they commonly find schools without formal curricula, school leadership that isn’t focused on student achievement or creativity in running a school, and programs for parents that aren’t well-developed.

Colorado, Louisiana, and New Jersey are among the states shaping their own school intervention practices, in part, based on Kentucky’s scholastic audits, said Pat Hurt, who helps oversee the audits as the Kentucky Department of Education’s director of school improvement.

Higher-scoring schools in Kentucky see the value of the audits, she said. About one-third of the reviews in the past two years have been voluntary, she said. “This work has really taken on a life of its own.”

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