A Comprehensive Picture of School Quality and Success
Over the past year and a half I have had the pleasure of working with the Massachusetts Association of 766 Approved Private Schools (maaps). The 85 maaps schools serve a highly individually diverse population of students with special needs. Students are typically placed in a maaps school by their home public school district due to the severity of their needs. The maaps schools are often highly specialized settings and offer unique programming to serve their student populations such as residential services, medical or psychiatric teams, and sensory-friendly environments. For many years, the Board of Directors for maaps has been interested in finding a way to better communicate about school quality and student success at the maaps schools. While the statewide standardized assessment results are just one piece of the picture for any school, this especially true for the maaps schools where the students being served often take the alternate assessment and are all working on individualized education goals. I started working with maaps to help them conceptualize a common reporting system for all of the maaps schools. The two primary purposes of this work were to establish a theory of action for the reporting system and develop a draft reporting framework outlining important reporting domains and the indicators that could comprise them.
My colleague Carla Evans and I began by setting out across Massachusetts to undertake full-day school visits and interviews with key staff, students, and parents at a sample of the maaps schools. We sought to gain a deeper understanding of the populations of students served, discuss the missions for the schools and their goals for students, document the current system of assessments used for measuring and monitoring student skills and outcomes (academic and otherwise), and gather information related to the skills necessary for students to effectively engage in their post-graduation plans or placements. In addition to school visits we sought input into the system design from stakeholders outside the maaps schools including public school special education directors and superintendents, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and representatives from the education committees in the state legislature.
As a result of this work, we were able to articulate the key goals of the system and what assumptions must hold in order for the system to function as intended in a theory of action. Additionally, we mocked up a full reporting system framework comprised of six primary domains and a number of indicators within each. Those domains are: school setting, student safety and engagement, parent/guardian satisfaction, school climate, academic outcomes, and transitioning success. The indicators in each of those domains are intended to provide a comprehensive picture of school quality and school success with specific attention to the context of the particular school environment. The draft theory of action and the six reporting domains are illustrated in the Figure below.
The next steps of this work involve working closely with a subset of schools to operationalize the business rules associated with the indicators in the reporting system and develop a set of survey instruments that will be custom-built for this purpose. One of key challenges and markers of success for this project will be gaining buy-in from across the maaps membership so that all schools are able to see the advantages of participating in the reporting system for both communication and school improvement purposes.
In general, my work with maaps has been a good example of the potential power of providing rich school and student outcomes data alongside standardized test scores to better understand the full picture of school quality and student success. The system design was driven by a clearly articulated set of goals with the needs of the end users at the forefront. Locally-driven reporting systems such as this are an important contribution to the national conversation regarding school quality that is too often dominated by federal accountability requirements.