What is effective schooling?
This website, and much of the Education Consumers Foundation's work, is dedicated to the concept of effective schooling. But what is it? And how can you tell whether it's happening?
Most parents would agree that the purpose of schooling is to help every child reach his or her academic potential, no matter where they're starting from. For students operating below grade level, the goal is to provide them with accelerated instruction so that they may reach grade level; for children at or above grade level, the focus is on helping them to reach well beyond this measure of proficiency.
The ECF considers effective schooling to be the way in which schools advance students academically at the fastest rate they are capable of moving. In other words, effective schooling is the practice of helping children to be all that they can be.
How can you tell?
Defining effective schooling is one thing - measuring it is another. Most people are familiar with assessments that show where students are, such as year-end assessments like Tennessee's TCAP. But those tests don't say anything about the rate of learning. On the TCAP, a child two years behind who makes remarkable academic progress will still not meet the standard of proficiency. And a child who enters a grade already at profient levels and then coasts all year will still show up as proficient.
Measuring the rate of learning, and particularly trying to determine the school's contribution to a student's academic progress, sounds like a daunting task. Fortunately, parents in Tennessee have access to a tool that does exactly that.
It's called the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS), and it uses a child's past performance on the state's annual TCAP tests to project the child's expected level of annual academic growth. If the child performs above what was expected based on those projections, the school can be properly credited with accelerating that student academically; if the student comes in below projected levels, the school can be credit with that result as well.
TVAAS data is gathered for children individually, and only parents are allowed to see projections of their child's academic progress (see more on Student Projection Reports). But the Tennessee Department of Education makes school-level data - a composite number of the progress of all students at a particular school - available to the public.
It is important to note that value-added data provides a measure of the school's impact on student learning, and that any school can be highly effective. It all depends on how the school goes about its business each day - there are no magic formulas, just a commitment to proven practices and lots of hard work. (A summary of the practices shared by several effective schools can be found here.)