Tuesday, 9 June 2015

How do we know how we are going? (2015 Term 2 Week 8)

Following on from last week's blog about our recent HSC results, I want to make the point that I am entirely in favour of evaluating progress. Every school needs to ask "How are we going?" If we don't assess our impact, then we can't know if our efforts are well-directed or effective. The very idea of an improvement agenda, or a quest for success, assumes some means of measurement. 

The challenge, of course, lies in identifying the right measures! Inaburra School has access to, and weighs, a huge number of measures in evaluating our progress in any one year. 

Evaluating cognitive learning Assessing the cognitive learning of students is obviously a core aspect of the school's work. While assessment can be done of learning, for learning and as learning, the following comments are directed towards assessment of learning. 

Most assessment of learning at school is designed and administered internally to the school. The reports that are issued at the end of each semester summarise these assessments, providing feedback on a student's progress over time. This feedback includes the students' work habits and engagement, participation in school life, progress according to syllabus outcomes and more general comments.

The School is also engaged with externally-developed assessments of student learning. Many of them will be familiar to parents;the main ones are NAPLAN (literacy and numeracy) and the HSC (end of Year 12 exit credential in NSW). However, there are a number of other tools that we use for assessing the progress of individual students including the Progressive Achievement Tests, the International Competitions and Assessments for Schools (ICAS), the Essential Secondary Science Assessment (ESSA) and others.

Evaluating non-cognitive learning However, given our interest in the non-cognitive capabilities of our young people, particularly as expressed in the Inaburra Learner Profile, we are also exploring how to assess student progress in these areas. Non-cognitive capabilities and characteristics are harder to gauge with an objective, verifiable and consistent tool, but we believe that it ought be possible to make defensible judgments about individual students and their progress. In 2015 we are making use of two externally-developed tools that explore some of these issues.

The Gallup Student Poll measures student hope, engagement and wellbeing, as well as the effect of the school on the spiritual journey of the student, and the entrepreneurial disposition of students. Our students in Years 5-12 participated in this online poll earlier in the year. The school will receive a report from Gallup in the near future; this report will provide us with a baseline for our student population by year group. It does not report on individual students.

Inaburra School has also joined ten other NSW independent schools in trialling the Australian use of the Mission Skills Assessment. This instrument assesses students in Years 6-8 for the non-cognitive skills and attributes of teamwork, creativity, ethics, resilience, curiousity, and time-management. An online survey, which is part of this assessment, will be done by students in these years during the course of this week. We expect a report from this assessment late in the year that will serve as a baseline for us in developing these attributes. Again, the MSA does not report on individual students.

The challenge of assessing non-cognitive learning is substantial, but crucial. 

Evaluating other aspects of school life
Obviously, in addition to assessing learning, there are many other aspects of organisational life that we assess. We evaluate key measures, such as enrolment demand, finances, and staff/student ratios against historical data and industry benchmarks. Staff participate in an annual engagement survey conducted by Voice Project. Students provide feedback to teachers in small-scale surveys at various points in the year. We conduct satisfaction surveys for students in Years 6 and 12 every year, as well as their parents. Every three years we conduct a K-12 parent satisfaction survey; this was completed by 60% of parents earlier this term.

All of which is to say, the School places a high value on evaluating our progress, identifying and bolstering areas of strength and intervening to improve in areas of weakness. Onward and upward!

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