How Good Is My School?

By Dave Steele, Director of School Partnerships

PAVE's Assessment Process

As a parent myself, and a proud Milwaukeean, I know that the question “how good is my kid’s school?” weighs heavily on parents’ minds across our great city. I also know that my ultimate measure of the quality of a school is whether or not I would send one of my two boys there. When evaluating a potential school, a parent wants to know whether their child will receive the highest quality instruction in a productive, engaging and caring environment.

PAVE’s process of assessing our Partner Schools is not altogether different from how a parent chooses the best school for their child, but we go deeper. We consider not only the current state of a school, but its long term potential. We evaluate whether a school is a healthy organization where changes in personnel and other circumstances won’t significantly impact its core mission of educating kids. Where a strong board of directors, working in close partnership with parents, community and staff, articulate a clear vision for educational excellence, allocate resources wisely, and hold themselves and their head of school accountable for results. It’s these indicators of organizational health that PAVE considers when assessing potential new Partner Schools and guiding existing partnerships.

For most of us, the ultimate indicator of whether a school is good is the test scores that a school produces. This makes intuitive sense. If we want to know whether students are learning, we consider first and foremost their test scores. But if we evaluate a school solely on test scores, which test scores should we put more weight on? The State’s standardized test, tests that reflect national benchmarks like Iowa Test of Basic Skills, college entrance exams like the ACT? And how should we evaluate schools with non-traditional approaches such as Montessori programs or schools that serve primarily students with special learning needs? And consider schools that have taken on very difficult missions, such as high schools serving high percentages of students entering 9th grade well below grade level?

Suddenly a simple sounding question — “how good is my school?” — has a very complex answer. Schools must be held accountable for results, but a one-size-fits-all approach to evaluating schools misses a lot of great work going in a diverse array of schools serving the diverse needs of our communities.

At PAVE, we believe that lasting change in Milwaukee education will require sustained excellence at each school serving kids in Milwaukee. We meet each of our Partner School organizations where they are, and seek to provide them with the resources to help their boards and organizations successfully achieve their missions. To do this work we must understand each school as a unique organization. While all schools share a common goal, each school has unique assets and faces unique challenges. PAVE’s assessment process is based on our 20 years of experience in working to develop excellent urban schools, and is our method of evaluating potential partnerships, as well as guiding our work with each school we partner with.

Ultimately, a community decides whether a school is doing its job. This community is made up of parents, community supporters, board members, and school leaders, who agree on the school’s educational vision. PAVE’s Assessment Process seizes upon this unique vision for each school, helps boards define those goals aligned to that vision, and, allows PAVE to deploy those necessary resources, partnerships, and connections to help schools achieve their visions and fulfill their critical missions.

For an overview of the Spring 2014 assessment, view this video that was created for schools interested in engaging in our process:

Keep up with PAVE’s Blog for more posts about our assessment process.

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