An Outstanding Education: Numbers Tell the Story
We have recently received the latest batch of data on some critical measures of “outcomes” of our program.
First, we received the results of a recent WordMasters Challenge. For those who may not be familiar, this is an exercise in critical thinking that first encourages students to become familiar with a set of interesting new words (considerably harder than grade level), and then challenges them to use those words to complete analogies expressing various kinds of logical relationships. Working to solve the Challenge analogies helps students to think both analytically and metaphorically. Though most vocabulary-boosting and analogy-solving activities have been created for high school students, the WordMasters materials have been specifically designed for younger students, in grades three through eight. They are particularly well-suited for able and interested children who rise to the challenge of learning new words and enjoy logical puzzles posed by analogies.
Thus, our results should be viewed in context of schools that self-select for this sort of activity. Schools that do not educate “able and interested children” generally do not sign up for this optional competition, which is still entered by approximately 220,000 student nationwide, with well over a 1,000 grade-level teams. To the best of our knowledge, we are the only dual language program willing to participate in this demanding competition.
The WordMasters folks informed us last week that competing in the difficult Blue Division of the Challenge, and coached by Patricia Rigley, our sixth graders tied for eighth place in the nation, in the year’s second meet, held in February, among 409 school teams competing. At the same time, the school’s seventh graders, coached by Donna Cover, placed fifth in the nation among 291 competing teams, and our eighth graders, coached by Rachel Katz, tied for seventh place in the nation among 301 competing teams. It marks the highest combined finish for our teams.
In addition, seven of our students won highest honors for individual achievement. Two fifth graders and five seventh graders earned perfect scores in the meets for their grade levels, while in the country only 51 fifth graders and only 93 seventh graders did so. If my rusty statistics are correct, the chances of any school having five perfect scores in the seventh grade was 0.00335, or three-tenths of a percent. When I mentioned this feat at a recent Hanhallah meeting, I said this was achieved in spite of being a dual language program, and Rabbi Bardack correctly challenged me. “We achieved this outcome precisely because we are dual language school,” she said.
In addition, we received news of our students’ applications to selective independent schools this past week. Our students received acceptances to Beaver Country Day School, Brimmer and May, Boston University Academy, Buckingham Browne & Nichols, Milton Academy, Commonwealth School, Maimonides, Roxbury Latin School, Winsor School, and, of course, Gann Academy. Our acceptance rate to these schools (other than Gann) was approximately 50 percent, better than twice the average admissions rate to these schools, overall. And at Gann, we had a 94 percent admissions rate, significantly higher than the roughly 85 percent admissions rate Gann has reported for overall admission. Factoring in our admissions, it appears that our students were admitted at roughly a 25 percent higher rate than other students.
These are both very, very impressive outcomes and speak to the great work and achievement of our students and our teachers. We now have all sorts of data to show, to explain and frankly, to brag about our program. Yet, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard over the past few months questions like “yah, but is our school as good as _____?” (and you can fill in the blank with names like Milton, Park, Rashi, Newton, Brookline, or even Singapore). We’re patient, and we do our best to explain, yet nonetheless, it is interesting to step back and consider what is going on with all the questions about comparative assessment of program, why are folks so interested and why is it so hard to provide data that convinces folks about the quality of the program.
These questions about program assessment are certainly b’shem shamayim (worthy) questions, and I’d like to use this article as the kick-off for a series that will explore some of the background to the broader conversation on what I would call standards-based accountability through the nation, how it applies to independent schools overall, Jewish day schools and our school in particular. At the close of the series, I’ll hold coffee hours at both campuses to continue the conversation with any interested parents.
In closing, I’ll give a preview of the punch line: in a nutshell, we’re not asked the questions about the comparative quality of our program because “things are never good enough;” rather, we are now in an environment in which institutional accountability is (rightfully) a topic throughout society, and schools are a particular focus to this movement. How we answer the questions will hopefully say a lot about how we view our relationship both to our constituents as well as to the aspirations and visions we claim for ourselves. More to follow.