"Jewish education is a field where so much more applied research and evaluation should be done--not in the spirit of 'gotcha,' but of a dancer looking in the mirror and learning what see when we look there." With these words, Lee Shulman challenges day schools to construct evaluations that tell the kinds of stories that support and develop their missions and visions. This video supplements Shulman's article in the issue and addresses issues specific to Jewish day schools.
HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal
Assessment is a critical function at all levels of day schools. From the classroom to the boardroom, the faculty to the head, every stakeholder and every aspect of school operations stand to benefit from evaluation. Nonetheless, thinking about assessment, and the vehicles for achieving it, are changing in many ways parallel to other aspects of school design. This issue offers reflections about assessment, various and novel ways of achieving it, and discussion of outcomes that can result from successful measurement.
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Schools must take seriously the need to provide early support to students who show signs of struggle. Far fewer students would lag behind their classmates academically and require remediation if our Jewish day schools were to invest in a systematic process of schoolwide prevention in the form of solid teaching practices, high quality curricula, assessment and intervention. With this proactive paradigm shift, Jewish day schools will be able to meet the challenges of the ever increasing diversity that exists in our schools and begin to identify and support those most in need.
Tefillah education, including the actual davening, the range of skills, behaviors and dispositions required to do it well and with intention, and the lessons and instructions that often accompany it, is rarely assessed. This is particularly true for the affective areas. No one is dismissing the difficulty involved; it is far easier to assess the information a student has acquired in a course than it is to assess skills and even harder to measure how our students feel about or make meaning from tefillah.
A nonprofit board, properly recruited, that institutes appropriate policies and procedures and has individual members who understand their legal duties and responsibilities is likely to be strong and effective. Combine that with accountability for vision-focused inquiry, transparency, ongoing assessment, robust discourse and mutual respect between the board and the head of school, and that board is on its way to high performance.
In Jewish day schools, we are blessed to have Torah and core Jewish values as our guides for behavioral standards. At Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit, we promote values that include acting with derekh eretz, performing acts of tikkun olam, and instilling our lives with kedushah.
There is no accountability system forcing day schools to use assessment tests. But that does not mean that there are not compelling reasons to do so. The truth is, assessment done right can help us answer many of the pressing questions facing our families, community members and our staff and faculty. For example:
Parent: How is my child doing?
Teacher: What can I do to better support this child’s learning?
There is an unprecedented level of attention being given to the value and applicability of assessment tools, particularly in the field of education. Certainly this positive development is in part a result of the vast amounts of data seemingly at our fingertips. Practitioners, target audiences, funders, local organizations and other key stakeholders recognize that there are ways to measure the programs, initiatives, curricula, or any other intervention in question.
Deborah is a communication and behavior expert who helps corporations, Jewish organizations, and individuals achieve personal, interpersonal and professional success, and she serves as a lecturer of management communication at the Wharton Business School. This interview is published in partnership with the Jewish Book Council. firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell us about the needs you saw that inspired you to write these books.
Eleanor Duckworth is a professor of education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Among the accomplishments for which she is known is a form of student self-evaluation embedded in the learning process which she describes below. She generously agreed to an interview with her student, Debra Shaffer Seeman, to share her insights with us.
To introduce our conversation, please tell us about your philosophy of student learning.
As debates rage on over education reform, assessments are a hot-button issue, not just for educators but also for parents and policymakers. The creation of the Common Core State Standards and the subsequent development of the two primary assessment tools that launched in the 2014–2015 school year have kicked off a new flurry of media coverage and debate about student assessments not seen since the early years of No Child Left Behind.
As a first year college student enrolling in an advanced Spanish course, I found myself sitting in class with students from diverse backgrounds. Many students, like myself, had barely visited a country with Spanish as its native language. Others in the class had actually lived in Spanish speaking countries and spoke—at least to my ear—fluent Spanish. This situation presented a challenge to the teacher in terms of grading. Students were entering the class with vastly different fluency levels in Spanish.
American education is awash in evaluation these days. The driving notion seems to be that if we specify the outcomes we are after and test for them, good instruction will follow. This is both good news, and bad news, for Jewish schools. The bad news first. Vast resources are being directed away from teachers and students, and towards the development of tests: tests for students, tests for teachers, tests of administrators. One only has to glance at the newspaper to see the lively conversation all this testing has generated among parents, teachers and kids.
Classroom observations hold great potential to improve teaching and learning. In an effective evaluation and feedback system based on mutual trust, observations can clarify expectations for teaching, support teachers in elevating their practice, and provide essential information for professional development decisions. Moreover, when teachers receive regular, meaningful, and actionable feedback on their practice they are more willing and better equipped to make the instructional shifts called for as schools increasingly aim to become models of innovation.
Is your school’s today the same as its yesterday? Enrollment dropping—staff morale sinking—parents frustrated—do you know why?
One thing’s for certain: we cannot afford to stand still in today’s demanding, competitive educational environments. When every Jewish child counts and the tectonic plates of the educational landscape continue to jostle and shake, how do you know what moves to make to ensure you’re delivering the best your system can provide?
As a K-12 school, David Posnack Jewish Day School has a unique opportunity to use assessments to analyze the academic curriculum at all grade levels. When standardized testing or summative assessments identify areas in which students demonstrate a specific weakness or lack of prerequisite knowledge, Posnack teachers are able to use this data not only to remediate instruction, but to proactively ensure that academic gaps are closed before moving forward to the higher level grades.