Our country’s most rapidly improving schools are seeing dramatic improvements in their test scores. That’s really not a surprise. What is surprising, however, is that they spend far less time focused on standardized tests than most other schools.
What’s their trick?
They take a step back, slow down and ask themselves three important questions:
· “What do our students need to know to be successful in the world beyond school?”
· “What must our students do to succeed in the world beyond school?”
· And finally, “What must our students be like to succeed in the world beyond school?”
Three Ways Forward
The answers may or may not surprise you:
· Students must develop and use what I call “guiding principles.” These are attributes like responsibility, respect, perseverance, initiative, adaptability and trustworthiness.
· Students must stay focused and fully engaged in their learning environment.
· Students must stay focused on getting better at what they do every day. Basically, they need to adopt a growth mindset.
Changing Things Around
Educators at these schools decided to emphasize those characteristics, not just test scores. They changed their report cards to stress these characteristics. When they did, students’ academic performance dramatically improved.
The approach of these schools is if you focus on the soft skills (which I refer to above as guiding principles), student engagement, and simply trying to help all students grow academically, then state tests will take care of themselves.
A Powerful Tool to Help Achieve Success
Welcome to the Learning Criteria.
Based upon the success of these rapidly improving schools, we created the Learning Criteria to help schools we work with evaluate their students. It is also a tool for teachers, administrators and parents to evaluate classroom experiences and focus on high-engagement learning opportunities. The goal is to create well-rounded individuals ready to succeed in school – and beyond!
The Learning Criteria consist of four components:
n Foundation Learning. This is knowledge a school requires all students to achieve. It is measured through standardized tests, and often is related to achieving “Adequate Yearly Progress.”
n Stretch Learning. This learning takes place when students push beyond the minimum requirements. Stretch learners participate in interdisciplinary activities, enroll in honors courses and seek specialized certificates.
n Learner Engagement. When learners engage with their teachers, peers and the overall school community, they become more motivated and eager to participate in the learning process. When students are engaged, they feel a sense of satisfaction, belonging and accomplishment.
n Personal Skill Development. Basically, working on leadership and social skills. Does a student show empathy? Can she control her emotions? Can she collaborate? Can she work as part of a team? Through personal skill development, students will be better prepared for lifelong success in business, at home and in their communities.
Racing the Wrong Way
Most schools focus first on foundation learning before moving on to the other three criteria. Sadly, many students never get past this initial stage. One way to think about the Learning Criteria is to envision a race with four hurdles. Most schools try to clear the hurdles in this order:
1. Foundation Learning
2. Stretch Learning
3. Personal Skill Development
4. Student engagement
Many schools can’t get their students to clear the first hurdle. But they double down anyway in an effort to score well on state standardized tests. They never reach the three other hurdles. They’re running the race in the wrong direction.
Our country’s most rapidly improving schools run the race in the opposite direction. They focus on student engagement first, then move on to personal skill development and stretch learning. Guess what? When you run the race this way, foundation learning takes care of itself.
In future blogs, we will focus on details of student engagement, personal skill development and stretch learning.