"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?
We measure distance, we assess learning, and we evaluate results in terms of some set of criteria. Bob Kizlik
Disneyworld has measured the distance visitors will walk from a concession stand before throwing a wrapper on the ground. That distance is 27 steps. Thus, if you go to Disneyworld, which prizes cleanliness, you will find a trashcan every 27 steps along your way. This is an example of good data, valid assessment and meaningful evaluation leading to positive results.
Fifteen years ago, Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone provided a portrait of the diminution of social, political and familial connectedness. Putnam methodically documented declining participation in and connection to our religious and civic institutions over the last several decades. The collapse of bowling leagues and other associations where relationships had been forged and nurtured had profound repercussions on our bottom line, our outreach and even our psyches. Putnam argued that ultimately we need to find ways to reconnect with one another. It’s hard to argue with that.
As a school, we have set guidelines for the hiring of teachers and other pedagogic staff, and the hiring process always includes a model lesson or some kind of interaction with students. Similarly, the evaluation process for teachers is clear, with expectations delineated in full. However, this is not the case for the non-educational staff, despite the importance of the role they play. What should we expect from those who represent the “business” of the school? How involved should they be as part of our mission?
Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him, “Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying, “That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary—go and learn it.” Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a
Being a “very good listener” is one of the highest forms of praise a kindergartner can receive from her teacher. “Emily is cleaning up so nicely. She is a good listener.” “Look how Daniel is doing his work. He is a very good listener.” When children are little, “a good listener” is measured by a child’s track record for sitting quietly and doing as he or she is told. Listening is often measured by obedience.
When my daughter Dina returned from the first class in managerial accounting early in her MBA program, I innocently asked how it had gone. I fully expected her to describe her boredom with the rigors of accounting, since pursuing an MBA was decidedly an afterthought for my iconoclastic daughter, who already held degrees in theatre and social work.
Many day schools recruit families and students from Jewishly diverse backgrounds and market that diversity as a competitive advantage. Diversity signals a happy family in which everyone belongs. In truth, that diversity is often arrived at pragmatically, as a necessary choice to fill the seats. I don’t mean that it’s chosen grudgingly or masks conflict; the principle that the Jewish people are one is deeply and broadly felt. But how diversity plays out in the life of the school is different when it’s arrived at pragmatically than when it’s chosen ideologically.
How to Measure A+ Human Being Education
It has become the norm for companies to seek feedback constantly via email or phone surveys after we make a purchase, or to track sentiment (and take corrective actions) about them on social media. Why the obsession? Because companies have figured out that in a competitive marketplace, managing customer sentiment and loyalty are critical to profits, and a channel for honest feedback is essential to good managerial decisions.
Each year, close to one hundred Jewish day schools in North America run trips to Israel for students during the final months of eighth grade. In community, Conservative and Reform day school sectors, more than 70% of schools run such trips. While most students are expected to pay their way, few trips depart without philanthropic intervention or financial subvention directly from school budgets. With such widespread practice, it is remarkable that the ROI (return on investment) provided by these trips has, until recently, never been examined.
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