Defining Student Achievement

Many of the readers of this blog who have worked with me in trainings for instructional coaching, designing professional development, or facilitating professional learning communities are aware that I focus on a backwards planning process that begins with identifying desired student outcomes. (See earlier blog.) I stress that it is critical for the definition of student achievement to be agreed upon by the educators who are working together. I also encourage that time be taken to explore the depth and complexity of that definition. What components are beyond those being measured by local, state, national, and international tests?

A recent blog by Katrina Schwartz, In an Era of Global Competition, What Exactly Are We Testing For?, reinforced my focus on a broad definition of student success.

Schwartz reports on a presentation by Yong Zhao (featured in my earlier blog) at the 2013 Leadership Conference. She writes:

In Zhao’s view, most education systems start out by defining the outcomes. They make a bet about which skills will be important and promise that if students master those skills, they will succeed. Zhao sees this as a flawed approach because it forces everyone into a homogenous group, a bit like making sausage out of all different kinds of meat. Defining outcomes allows systems to measure results, but it stamps out individuality.

The problem comes from defining outcomes as those that are easy and not too costly to measure…what’s on the standardized test.

Schwartz continues: “The new education needs to start with the child. Not with the prescribed content,” Zhao said. “We start with individual differences; we start with their cultural strengths.” Beginning with the individual and building upwards from there allows each person to become uniquely great at something. And when students are passionate about anything, they can then be creative and entrepreneurial. For Zhao, the new model has to be about creating a new middle class based on creativity.

Uniquely great and passionate …Wow! What great phrases to describe the student outcomes from which we could plan backwards.

Fairfax County Schools in Virginia describes their goals for student achievement as Building the Future…Child by Child:

  • “Fairfax County Public Schools inspires and empowers students to meet high academic standards, lead ethical lives, and be responsible and innovative global citizens. The three student achievement goals Academics, Essential Life Skills, and Responsibility to the Community—were developed by the School Board to accomplish this mission.Here is their explanation of essential life skills:
    • 2.1. Demonstrate honesty, responsibility, and leadership.
    • 2.2. Courageously identify and pursue their personal goals.
    • 2.3. Develop the resilience and self-confidence required to deal effectively with life’s challenges.
    • 2.4. Possess the skills to manage and resolve conflict.
    • 2.5. Work effectively within a group dynamic.
    • 2.6. Demonstrate respect for cross-cultural differences and perspectives.
    • 2.7. Develop practical life skills including but not limited to:
    • 2.7.1.Time management.
    • 2.7.2.Work habits.
    • 2.7.3.Problem solving/critical thinking.
    • 2.7.4.Financial competency.
    • 2.7.5.Self-sufficiency.
    • 2.8. Effectively use technology to access, communicate, and apply knowledge, and foster creativity.
    • 2.9. Make healthy and safe life choices.
    • 2.10. Be inspired to learn throughout life.

    I love the thought of planning backwards from a list like this. What would you expect to see students and teachers doing in a classroom built to promote students identifying and pursuing personal goals with a passion that creates self-confidence and resilience?

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2 Responses to “ Defining Student Achievement ”

  1. Charles Elerick Says:

    Thanks Steve for a wonderful presentation yesterday here in San Antonio. Your enthusiasm is just what I needed to start the school year and I love the articles. Is there a way you can email me the powerpoint on instructional coaching with the end in mind? Thanks again

  2. Steve Barkley Says:

    I will be happy to email that powerpoint to you, Charles. Thanks for the comment and glad you are ready for the new school year.

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Steve Barkley

For the past 30 years, Steve has served as a consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. Read more…

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