Academic assessment and measurement tools, like ERB, AP or SAT, endeavor to inform schools about the effectiveness of teaching, and ensuring students are learning and growing at an appropriate rate. That’s the extent that these tools are typically applied.
St. Margaret’s uses these data sets in similar ways, yet goes further in its analysis by adding a diverse group of tools in a mission-specific dashboard and enlisting a broader, holistic review. For several years, this unique, institutional approach has been recognized by the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) as a leading practice that can help other institutions improve as well.
Last week, Upper School Principal Jeneen Graham was invited to present this data analysis method for California private school leaders at the 2022 CAIS Trustee/School Head Conference to help other schools measure and improve on the most essential aspect of their institutions: their missions. Dr. Graham partnered with The Branson School Head of School Chris Mazzola to share “Measuring Your Mission and Vision: Systems of Data Collection and Analysis.”
“As independent schools, we all have unique mission statements, visions or core values that guide actions and aspirations. It is incumbent on us to hold ourselves accountable to these words that guide us,” said Dr. Graham. “If we can ask the right questions that lead us to a set of metrics that are mission-aligned, we can track that progress over time. It is critical that we can answer the question, ‘how are we doing?’ As a school, we can answer that question every year through a variety of lenses.”
Dr. Graham, who led St. Margaret’s creation of its student academic performance data analysis program when she served as Academic Dean, is a co-chair of the CAIS Data-Based Program Improvement Think Tank helping schools improve through gathering, tracking, and analyzing qualitative and quantitative data over time.
About St. Margaret’s Mission-Centered Data Analysis Approach
The St. Margaret’s approach is different in several ways. One difference is the intentional tracking of student cohorts annually and over time for longitudinal analysis of their learning and growth, rather than taking the same annual data and comparing different student groups as they move through the school program. This significantly improves the analysis of the effectiveness of the school’s teaching and programs.
“Think of it as measuring the distance traveled over time,” said Dr. Graham. “Yes, knowing how a class of students performs on measures of reading or math is important, but tracking each cohort over time and comparing them to other cohorts of students helps us gauge the effectiveness of curriculum and program, not just individual or class level growth from year to year. If our mission is dedicated to lives of learning, these longitudinal analyses are the best match for our values.”
Importantly, St. Margaret’s enlists a host of different assessment tools that measure culture, belonging and connection, enabling the school to ask questions about essential institutional promises made in its mission, vision and core values.
An essential part of St. Margaret’ mission is the focus on educating students’ “hearts and minds.” In response, St. Margaret’s utilizes assessments that demonstrate aggregate academic growth (minds) over time that is comparable to other like schools. Additionally, the school tracks how well students seek growth opportunities, engage with their community, feel a sense of belonging, and are equipped with social-emotional skills (hearts).
“At each division, we have identified metrics that measure and help us understand how we are doing daily, annually and longer term across all facets of the promises we make in our mission. Every tool we use is developmentally appropriate and mission-aligned,” said Dr. Graham. “As a leadership team, we work together to make sure that we are always interrogating our data and adding and subtracting measures depending on the needs of our community.”
“Importantly, we know how we are doing in educating our young people in the areas that matter most to us and our families, and that is the best measurement of our success in student learning and growth.”
Want to learn more? Dr. Graham will present St. Margaret’s current data sets and school performance at the next PTF General Membership Meeting on Thursday, March 24.