Thursday, April 01, 2010

How Should We Measure Student Success?

by Daniel L. Bennett

I normally don't write about K-12 issues, but I had a random thought while taking a post-lunch walk regarding the debate over how to measure success in terms of secondary school outcomes. Some claim that we ought to measure graduation rates or proficiency test scores, while others claim it is college preparedness, or college going rates. Here's a novel idea: How about we judge and reward/punish the effectiveness of schools by how frequently their past students apply for public subsidy programs such as food stamps, public housing or unemployment benefits, excluding of course programs that one has no control over such as disability?

Schools that consistently fail to improve the well-being of their students should lose funding, with the money being re-allocated to schools that actually improve the outcomes of their students's lives, rather than setting them up for dependency on the state. Such a system would make use of a longitudinal system that tracks individuals by a single identifier and interfaces with various state government agencies that provide social assistance. I think that this would be a much better measure of whether schools prepare their students for the challenges of life than whether they graduate, pass some test, or go on to college --none of which tells us much about how well students are prepared to tackle the real world.

Now I obviously recognize that some school districts are faced with higher proportions of students who have grown up with lower socioeconomic status than others, so such a system would need to control for this factor. We could work around this issue by working with relative data rather than absolute, measuring improvement in comparison to similar institutions and neighborhoods.

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