School & District Management

Struggling Schools Get Lessons in Benchmarking

By Lynn Olson — May 03, 2005 2 min read
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Michigan educators recently got a lesson in how to benchmark their work against promising practices in higher-performing schools with similar socioeconomic profiles. Michael Stewart and Larry Fieber of Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services led the first of several two-day workshops, March 21-22. The second took place April 11-12.

Teams of teachers, educational supervisors, and principals from 13 elementary and middle schools struggling to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act attended the March institute. Using S&P’s customized data analysis, they completed a self-assessment and identified schools that have higher performance on state tests, despite serving similar student populations.

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Participating schools are partnering with one or more higher-performing sites this spring to identify promising practices—in curriculum, instruction, assessment, and other areas—that are worth adapting or replicating. By the end of June, school improvement teams will attend a follow-up workshop to document their study’s findings and submit their plans to carry out the practices that have emerged.

“There’s lots of research on effective practices,” said Mr. Stewart, the director of performance-evaluation services for the New York City-based S&P, a division of the McGraw Hill Cos. known for its work on stocks and bonds. The objective, he said, is getting schools to be “active versus passive consumers of good information.”

Bypassing Opportunities

Jeremy M. Hughes, the interim state superintendent of public instruction in Michigan, said that while schools have had access to data about comparable schools for four years now through a contract with S&P, “what we learned was that there weren’t a lot of schools taking advantage of that.”

“This becomes the bridge that helps the people connect and gives them the skills to make a good connection, a meaningful one,” he said.

Mr. Stewart described the Michigan institutes, underwritten by a $228,000 grant from the state, as complementing the work of the Austin, Texas-based National Center on Educational Accountability.

The workshops are being offered in partnership with the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, the Michigan Department of Education’s office of school improvement, and the Michigan Association of School Administrators.

“This was a pilot to see how it works,” Mr. Hughes said.

“We are prepared to discuss funding more of [the institutes], depending on what we hear.”

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