School Evaluation Tool Kit
The following information is based on a 1986 U.S. Department of Education publication titled What Works: Research about Teaching and Learning, as summarized in the Independence Institute Issue Paper, Quality Checklist for Education Consumers, by John Andrews, published February 15, 1990.
Each “tool,” or statement, is based on conclusive education research, fully documented in the What Works report. The declarative statements are quoted verbatim from that report. The flag phrases and accompanying investigative questions, on which grades can be based, were framed by the Independence Institute.
Users may wish to complete the whole questionnaire, or those portions with greatest interest to themselves, in any of several ways. It can be done by personal visits to the schools, by telephone interviews, or by giving it to a teacher, principal, or school board member for self-grading and return.
Who can make use of the questionnaire? Parents, concerned voters, business people, reporters, legislators and their staffs, PTA leaders, advocates for minorities and the poor– as well as the many educators who are already justifiably sure they’re doing a pretty good job but want to do even better.
Whom should you approach for answers to the questionnaire? The principal and teachers at your local school. Members of the school board. The superintendent and other administrators in your school district. Students in the public schools, including your own child, his friends, possibly members of the student government at your child’s school.
For an even broader overview, you can question your legislator, members of the state board of education, a university department of education, or official in one of the statewide school lobbies. Those lobbies include the CEA teachers union, the association of school executives, the association of school boards, and the Colorado PTA.
Don’t assume that the data-gathering and grading process (“compared to what?”) will be easy. The evaluation criteria suggested in What Works are so obvious that they tend to “hide in plain sight” under the eyes of today’s educationist priesthood. Collecting your information may require a persistence bordering on rudeness. But persist! If you get conflicting answers from different sources, that tells you something. If some you approach cannot provide the answers, that is a significant answer in itself.
1. Work and Discipline: “Many highly successful individuals have above-average but not extraordinary intelligence. Accomplishment in a particular activity is often more dependent upon hard work and self-discipline than on innate ability.” Do the activities and atmosphere of this school send each student a strong message that his or her achievement depends mainly on hard work and self-discipline? Grade_____
2. Responsibility: “Belief in the value of hard work, the importance of personal responsibility, and the importance of education itself contributes to greater success at school.” Does this school hold each student sharply responsible for treating education as precious, for deriving its full value to his own benefit, and for contributing to an atmosphere where others can derive its value? Grade_____
3. Mom and Dad: “Parental involvement helps children learn more effectively.” Are there concrete evidences that this school is doing its utmost to maximize involvement of mothers and fathers with their own children’s education and with the running of the school itself? Grade_____
4. Storytelling: “Telling young children stories can motivate them to read. Storytelling also introduces them to cultural values and literary traditions before they can read, write, and talk about stories by themselves.” Does this school effectively use storytelling, especially for the youngest children, and does it do so in a way that dramatizes cultural values and literary traditions? Grade_____
5. Phonics for Reading: “Children get a better start in reading if they are taught phonics. Learning phonics helps them to understand the relationship between letters and sounds and to ‘break the code’ that links the word they hear with the words they see in print.” Does this school make full use of phonics with all beginning readers, lagging readers, and remedial reading pupils? Grade_____
6. Context for Reading: “Children get more out of a reading assignment when the teacher precedes the lesson with background information and follows it with discussion” Do the teachers at this school bring each reading assignment to life by setting it in context as recommended by the research? Grade_____
7. Writing Must be Taught: “The most effective way to teach writing is to teach it as a process of brainstorming, composing, revising, and editing.” Does this school emphasize the teaching of writing throughout all the grades, utilizing the four steps recommended? Grade_____
8. Math the Right Way: “Children in early grades learn mathematics more effectively when they use physical objects in their lessons. Although students need to learn how to find exact answers to arithmetic problems, good math students also learn the helpful skill of estimating the answers. This skill can be taught” Do math teachers at this school aid beginners with physical objects? Do they teach the skill of estimating? Grade_____
9. Science in Action:” Children learn science best when they are able to do experiments, so they can witness ‘science in action.'” Do the science teachers at this school engage the children with active learning through experiments? Grade_____
10. Expectations Drive Results: “Teachers who set and communicate high expectations to all their students obtain greater academic performance from those students than teachers who set low expectations.” How high are the expectations at this school? Are they made applicable to all the students? Are they clearly communicated and consistently enforced? Grade_____
11. Time on Task: “How much time students are actively engaged in learning contributes strongly to their achievement. The amount of time available for learning is determined by the instructional and management skills of the teacher and the priorities set by the school administration.” What percentage of the day at this school (without regard to the overall length of the day or the year) represents the students’ actual time on task in academic subjects? Grade_____
12. Direct Instruction, No Guesswork: “When teachers explain exactly what students are expected to learn, and demonstrate the steps needed to accomplish the particular academic task, students learn more.” Do teachers at this school clearly explain the desired learning outcomes and patiently demonstrate the steps required? Grade_____
13. Tutoring by Students: “Students tutoring other students can lead to improved academic achievement for both student and tutor and to positive attitudes toward course work.” Does this school take advantage of these benefits in having students tutor each other? Grade_____
14. Learn It by Heart: “Memorizing can help students absorb and retain the factual information on which understanding and critical thought are based.” Do teachers at this school place appropriate emphasis on memory work? Grade_____
15. Thinking Skills: “Student achievement rises when teachers ask questions that require students to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information in addition to simply recalling facts.” Are students at this school required to learn the specific skills of effective thinking? Grade_____
16. Study Skills: “The ways in which children study influence strongly how much they learn. Teachers can often help children develop better study skills.” Are children at this school required to learn the specific skills of how to study? Grade_____
17. Homework Load: “Student achievement rises significantly when teachers regularly assign homework and students conscientiously do it. Well-designed homework assignments relate directly to classwork and extend students’ learning beyond the classroom. Homework is most useful when teachers carefully prepare the assignment, thoroughly explain it, and give prompt comments and criticism when the work is completed.” Does this school require regular homework assignments? Are they well designed and consistently supported by teachers? Grade_____
18. Monitoring the Progress of Students: “Frequent and systematic monitoring of students’ progress helps students, parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers identify strengths and weaknesses in learning and instruction.” Does this school conduct frequent and systematic monitoring of students’ progress? Grade_____
19. Cultural Literacy Required: “Students read more fluently and with greater understanding if they have background knowledge of the past and present. Such knowledge and understanding is called cultural literacy.” Do the teachers at this school demonstrate an urgent commitment to equipping students with background knowledge of the past and present? Grade_____
20. Historical Vacuum Unacceptable: “Skimpy requirements and declining enrollments in history classes are contributing to a decline in students’ knowledge of the past.” Does this school require meaty history courses and lots of them? (Mushy “social studies” curricula are no substitute; look carefully at what that generic wrapper really contains in your particular school.) Grade_____
21. Foreign Language for the Long Haul: “The best way to learn a foreign language in school is to start early and to study it intensively over many years.” Does this school act accordingly in its courses and requirements? Grade_____
22. High Schools Should Aim High: “The stronger the emphasis on academic courses, the more advanced the subject matter, and the more rigorous the textbook, the more high school students learn. Subjects that are learned mainly at school rather than at home, such as science and math, are most influenced by the number and kinds of courses taken.” Does this school (if a high school) really pour it on the students as recommended? If an elementary or middle school, is it pushing kids to ready them for a rigorous high school? Grade_____
23. Be Scholars, Ladies and Gentlemen: “Schools that encourage academic achievement focus on the importance of scholastic success and on maintaining order and discipline.” Is the total atmosphere of this school oriented to challenging all students to be scholars, ladies and gentlemen; or is there a pervasive rationalization for low standards? Grade_____
24. Rules that Liberate: “Schools contribute to their students’ academic achievement by establishing, communicating, and enforcing fair and consistent discipline policies.” How good is the discipline at this school? Grade_____
25. Attendance Improves with Parents’ Help: “Unexcused absences decrease when parents are promptly informed that their children are not attending school.” Does this school phone or write parents with a same-day notice of truant students? Grade_____
26. The Principal as Skipper: “Successful principals establish policies that create an orderly environment and support effective instruction.” Is this school captained like a ship with high morale and in fighting trim; or is the leadership loose and drifting? Grade_____
27. Teachers as a Winning Team: “Students benefit academically when their teachers share ideas, cooperate in activities, and assist one another’s intellectual growth.” Is there concrete evidence that the teachers at this school work together as described? Grade_____
28. Knowing the Boss Cares: “Teachers welcome professional suggestions about improving their work, but they rarely receive them.” Do the teachers at this school receive attentive, constructive, supportive supervision from administrators? Grade_____
29. Job Readiness is More than Vocational: “Business leaders report that students with solid basic skills and positive work attitudes are more likely to find and keep jobs than students with vocational skills alone.” Do the curriculum and culture of this school contribute to all-around job readiness for all students, including the low achievers? Grade_____
30. The Very Best Schools: “The most important characteristics of effective schools are strong instructional leadership, a safe and orderly climate, school-wide emphasis on basic skills, high teacher expectations for student achievement, and continuous assessment of pupil progress.” Does this school act as though it places highest priority on the five attributes named, or is it bogged down with distractions and excuses? Grade_____