Educational evaluation reform is a major issue in the world today. Since the 1960s, research has
documented what works. While many principles have been discovered, the following four
deserve special consideration because they relate to the process of evaluation reform. That is, the following principles describe some fundamental relationships in how the issue of school evaluation reform should be addressed, rather than what specific programs to implement. The four principles are:
1. What You Measure Is What You Get (WYMIWYG);
2. Education evaluation is the result of the efforts of more measure the schools;
3. Focus on evaluation reform efforts of schools, not only teachers; and
4. Provide incentives for value added.
What You Measure Is What You Get (WYMIWYG)
There is a basic principle for any type of desired change: What You Measure Is What You Get
(Hummel & Huitt, 1997). These authors use the acronym WYMIWYG to help remember this
principle. As a general rule, what you focus on as an end result will be what you move
towards. And you must be able to measure both outcomes and processes if you are to
successfully manage resources and attain goals (Lingle & Schiemann, 1996).
The issue of assessment is critical to the functioning of schools (James, 1998). First, it can
serve as a motivator of student performance. If students have been taught to value grades or
other assessments, they will strive to do their best. Assessments also serve the function of
providing feedback to teachers and to communicate to students, parents and others what has
Gallup poll results over the past twenty-five years point to the view that the public expects
schools to impact academic achievement and character (Gallup, 1975, 1980; Elam, Rose, &
Gallup, 1992). The public apparently assumes that if students have demonstrated achievement
in the basic skills and character, they will be sufficiently prepared for the adult world that is
Unfortunately, groups and individuals that have reviewed this issue report it is a much more
complex task (e.g., Borman, Hanson, & Hedge, 1997; Huitt, 1995). The SCANS report (The
Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, 1991) provides an excellent start
towards identifying the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary for success in the 21st
century, the information age. This report was developed by a group of leaders in business,
industry, government, and education under the guidance of the Secretary of Labor. It outlines
skills in two broad categories: foundational and competencies. The foundational skills include
the basic skills with which the public is familiar. However, it also includes factors such as
critical thinking and personal qualities such as integrity. The competencies include such factors
as the ability to utilize resources and technology.
In a critique of the SCANS report, Huitt (1997) identified some important outcome measures
that were deemed important by futurists and other writers. For example, self-efficacy
(Bandura, 1997; Pajares, 1996) and optimism (Seligman, 1990, 1995) are only two of the
numerous social and emotional variables that have been deemed important for the modern
workforce. In fact, Goleman (1995) suggests that emotional factors (which he labels Emotional
Intelligence) are at least twice as important for life success as are intellectual or cognitive
In the context of the information-based economy, it is probably more important to be able to
select workers based on identified competencies rather than credentials (Bridges, 1994). In
fact, learning-to-learn skills will be more important than specific competencies as requirements
of work projects change rapidly (Lawler, 1994).
Many of the qualities mentioned by the SCANS report and Huitt’s critique can be measured
reliably and validly as early as first grade (e.g., Chiu, 1997). However, in order for these
alternatives to standardized testing to be politically viable, they need to connect schooling with
the public at large (Dorn, 1998). That means that accountability systems that are capable of
providing a means of filling the information gap between schools and the public need to be
established, rather than simply having the media report test scores once a year (Henry, 1996;
Bronfenbrenner (1979) proposed an ecological framework that identifies the interconnected
systems influencing human development. Empirical work over the past 20 years generally
supports this approach (e.g., Dixon, 1996; Ketsetzis, Ryan, & Adams, 1998; Pierce, Alfonso,
Garrison, 1998; Webster-Stratton, 1997). We must therefore acknowledge that schools are
only one influence on the development of children and youth.
Sanders (1998) illustrates how students' school-related attitudes and behaviors are triply
benefited when the three contexts of school, home, and church are working toward the same
goal of helping them succeed in school. Students need strong programs of school-familycommunity partnerships so that these institutions can better combine and coordinate the resources and support they provide youth (Epstein, Coates, Salinas, Sanders, & Simon, 1997).
There is much support for the impact of community, both in terms of structure or settings and
processes. For example, Pong (1997) showed that the negative effect of single-parent families
and stepfamilies on school achievement can be mitigated when social relations among parents
are strong; Revilla and Sweeney (1997) showed that the negative impact of low socioeconomic status could be counteracted by school practices.
The main reason, however, for better communications and exchanges among schools, families, and community groups is to assist students at all grade levels to succeed in school
and in life. Interestingly, the different purposes require different practices in comprehensive
programs of partnership (Epstein, 1996).
Researchers readily acknowledge that family, schools, and communities are primary
influencers on human development (e.g., Epstein, 1996). However, they are less ready to
acknowledge the positive influence of religious organizations. Greeley (1997) states that in the
context of educating children and youth, religious organizations are an important source of
social capital. Religious organizations have an especially important influence in the area of
character and moral development where religious scripture has provided guidance for
centuries (Carter, 1993; Nord & Haynes, 1998). In addition, Ginsburg and Hanson (1986)
reported that students expressing a religious affiliation had higher school achievement.
School personnel need to enlist and encourage the support of the other social institutions
primarily responsible for child and youth development. Epstein (1995) identified six types of
involvement essential for a comprehensive program of school-family-community partnerships:
1. parenting--helping all families establish home environments that support children as
2. communicating--designing and conducting effective forms of communication about
school programs and children's progress;
3. volunteering--recruiting and organizing help and support for school functions and
4. learning at home--providing information and ideas to families about how to help
students with schoolwork and school-related activities;
5. decision-making--including parents in school decisions and
6. collaborating with the community--identifying and integrating resources and services
from the community to strengthen and support schools, students and their families.
These need to be included in any program of school reform. Without them, schools are trying
to do the job all by themselves and that is going to be a much more difficult approach.
Focus Reform Efforts On Schools, Not Teachers
We have ample evidence that teachers' attitudes (e.g., Ashton, 1984; Proctor, 1985; Ross,
1995) and classroom behaviors (e.g., Joyce & Weil, 1995; Rosenshine, 1995; Squires, Huitt,
Segars, 1983) impact student achievement. However, this is a necessary, not sufficient,
condition for successful schooling. Schooling is a team, not an individual, activity. In team
sports, individuals win awards, teams win championships. In business, individuals earn
bonuses, companies earn profits. In the military, individuals earn medals, armies win wars. We
need to acknowledge and support the school team that is in a position to make an impact year
after year on the lives of children and youth.
One of the most prevalent messages of recent organizational literature is that the long-term
success and survival of any business or enterprise depends on its ability to function as a
"learning organization" (DuFour, 1997). Joyce and Calhoun (1995) state that educators should
"make all schools learning communities for faculties as well as students--making use of the
most powerful models of learning with both groups" (p. 51).
Four principles that define schools as learning organizations are:
1. Take an approach to professional growth that is purposeful and results-oriented--
individual growth is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for organizational growth;
2. Recognize that the best place for professional growth is the school itself--create jobembedded
opportunities for learning and growth.
3. Develop a school culture that is receptive to change--the highest priority should be
given to creating a context for staff development in which experimentation,
collaboration, and commitment to continuous improvement are the norms throughout
4. Regard professional development as a continuous process rather than an event--school
personnel should view professional development not as a task to be completed, but as
the ongoing work of a lifelong learner.
As Garmston and Wellman (1995) so eloquently put it:
Increasingly, self-renewing schools are collaborative places where adults care about one
another, share common goals and values, and have the skills and knowledge to plan
together, solve problems together, and fight passionately but gracefully for ideas to
improve instruction (p. 11).
It is also important to recognize two additional factors: the role of the principal and school
size. The principal sets the standard and is the role model for school-wide reform (e.g.,
Reavis, Vinson & Fox, 1999). Principals should be selected who can provide leadership in the
areas of vision development and goal setting. Additionally, students who attend smaller
schools tend to perform better academically (e.g., Cotton, 1996; Howley, 1997). Some of the
researchers in this area have suggested that these variables are so critical that they outweigh
all of the the teacher process variables combined.
Provide Incentives For Value Added
Just because a student or classroom or school or district has high levels of achievement or
character or whatever else we choose to measure, does not mean that the school has
necessarily played an important role in making that happen (Magdol, 1994). Because parents,
religious organizations, and communities also play a vital role, it may be that the school is not
meeting its obligations, but students are still scoring well on measures of desired outcomes.
When we find a rural or urban school that has students achieving on par with suburban
schools (e.g., Boyd & Shouse, 1997) or students from a low socioeconomic background
achieving as well as students from wealthier areas (e.g., Coleman and others, 1966), we need
to acknowledge that the school has added value over and above what the community
provides. When we find a school with large portions of students whose mothers have not
graduated from high school (Zill, 1992) or who do not have access to technology in the home
(Perelman, 1992), we need to acknowledge that the school has added value over and above
what is provided by the home environment. When we find a school with large numbers of
students who are not affiliated with any religious organization, we need to acknowledge that
the school has added value over and above that of those institutions (Ginsburg & Hanson,
1986). Therefore, we need to measure school success relative to the other institutional and
contextual variables (Gewirtz, 1998).
We need to learn from the business sector and business educators who propose a "balancedscorecard"
approach to managing change (Bailey, Chow, & Haddad, 1999). For example, the
New York State Education Department developed a measure of a district's efficiency that
allowed it to divide districts into those that are performing better or worse than predicted on
the basis of student outcomes and district expenditures, taking into account districts' student
background characteristics and district wealth. Districts could then be assessed by the state as
being either average, above average, or below average in terms of general quality, as defined
by cost and student-outcome attributes (Monk, Nusser & Roellke, 1998).
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Effective School Achievement Reform
Summary and Conclusions
We need to make use of the best data science has to offer in terms of the programs that
should be used to achieve our goals. And what are these data telling us?
First, we need to specify our goals and commit the resources to measuring them on a
systematic basis. These results need to be reported to the public in a timely and meaningful
fashion, not just once a year in the local newspaper. Our goals need to be broader than simply
scores on a standardized achievement test--they need to encompass other factors that
research has demonstrated lead to life and work success such as character and emotional
intelligence. Second, we need to coordinate our efforts with the contributions made by the
home, religious organizations, and community. The synergetic use of all resources will provide
a better result than attempting to meet our goals using only the school’s resources. Third, we
need to focus our efforts on improving schools; this produces important gains over that
resulting from a focus on teachers, especially teacher knowledge or credentials. And finally,
we need to hold schools accountable for adding value over and above that contributed by the
family, by religious organizations, and by the community. Simply because a school has
students with high test scores or other important measures of student outcomes does not
mean it is a well-functioning institution.