How Do We Measure School Turnaround?

Since taking office, United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called time and again for reforms that will help "turn around" the nation's struggling schools. But how will the of success of any such reforms be measured? A coalition of 17 education groups, called the Learning First Alliance, has released five key recommendations that it said will help do just that.

According to the alliance, "To create both swift improvement and sustained success, turnaround efforts must follow clear and actionable principles for measuring school performance. Such principles are necessary to identify schools in need of turnaround, reliably gauge the progress and staying power of turnaround efforts, and guide good decision-making."

To this end, the Learning First Alliance this week released a statement called "Principles for Measuring the Performance of Turnaround Schools," which provides some guidelines for assessing success in school improvement efforts. The five principles outlined in the statement are paraphrased below.

  1. Measure Progress Toward a Broad Vision of Student Success: Move beyond assessments of language arts and math and into other core subjects. Assessments themselves should also be broadened beyond bubble tests and should include things like capstone projects and student portfolios. In measuring school performance, factors such as AP participation, graduation rates, and satisfaction levels among stakeholders should be included.
  2. Measure the Conditions for School and Student Success: Are schools providing the right environment to foster success? Assessments should look at teacher retention, adequacy of professional development, transfer rates, student mobility rates, student attendance, and other similar factors. "In addition," the statement read, "turnaround initiatives should track essential school improvement processes--such as progress in aligning strong, comprehensive curriculum and professional learning with state standards; creating sound formative assessment strategies to highlight and address student learning needs; implementing intensive systems to support struggling students and teachers; fostering school-wide collaboration among staff; promoting shared leadership from staff and administrators; and strengthening staff professional development. Turnaround efforts should also gauge the effectiveness of strategies to promote parent and community engagement, and to strengthen links between schools and social service agencies."
  3. Ensure that Measures are Clear and Available to all Stakeholders.
  4. Track Progress Over Time.
  5. Include Experts' Qualitative Judgment When Measuring Turnaround Progress.

"We applaud Secretary Duncan for committing to turn around the nation's lowest-performing schools," said Bill Bushaw, chair of the Learning First Alliance ad executive director of Phi Delta Kappa International, in prepared remarks released to coincide with the statement. "It is critical that we accurately measure the progress of these efforts to ensure that turnaround schools are truly preparing their students for long-term success."

Phi Delta Kappa International is one of 17 national organizations involved in the Learning First Alliance. Others include the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, American Association of School Administrators, American Association of School Personnel Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American School Counselor Association, Association of School Business Officials International, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Education Association, National Middle School Association, National School Public Relations Association, National Staff Development Council, National PTA, and National School Boards Association.

A PDF of the complete recommendations by the Learning First Alliance can be downloaded in PDF form here. Further information about the alliance can be found here.

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 25-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).

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