GUEST COLUMN

Making ‘Every Child’ a Way of Life


By JOHN JAY BONSTINGL
The School Administrator Web Edition

 

Adequate yearly progress may be one of the most problematic aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act. It doesn’t have to be. In true schools of quality, student progress is a natural aspect of the school culture, a measure of dedication toward the goal of never leaving a single young
person behind.


In the right environment all young people can
and will succeed and yearly progress goals
will be met, but we first must take steps to
make sure the following key practices are at
the heart and soul of our work:

* Create collaborative school environments in
which everyone (administrators, teachers,
parents, students, bus drivers, etc.) works in
teams to collect, analyze and apply
information that is relevant to the continuous
improvement of their work.

“That’s an interesting opinion, but can we
back it up with data?” is a sentiment I often
hear in schools of quality. As a colleague of mine is fond of saying, “Without relevant data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” Every staff member should participate in one or more data teams, examining practical ways in which information can be used to improve all aspects of their work together. Students also should learn how to collect, analyze and apply relevant data to the continuous improvement of their own work.

Statistical Insights
* Focus on the right kind of "effect" data.
We collect mountains of data on student
performance, but all too often we discover
that the data are not as meaningful as we
had believed. As a result, school
administrators find they are data rich but
information poor. For example, we
traditionally collect test results and other
end-of-the-production-line "effect" data. Then
we make non-cohort comparisons to judge
our progress.

Comparing last year's 4th grade test scores
with this year's 4th grade test scores does
not give us the information we need to make
meaningful interventions with individual
students. It would make more sense to track
individual students' competencies and skill
sets, and judge the progress of the school by
aggregating individual student gains over
their school career.

My Midwestern clients like to say, “You can
weigh the pig a hundred times a day, but
that won’t necessarily make him any fatter.”
Ongoing data collection is useful only if it is
used to feed information into the systems
and processes that help students grow in
their capacities to perform at higher levels.

* Collect relevant “cause” data.

Just as important as test scores and other
effect data is the collection and analysis of
cause data to help teachers and students
understand why they are getting the results
they are getting.

Do we monitor data on school climate and
morale? On absenteeism (both students and
faculty) and dropout rates? On the
application of higher-order thinking, reading
and writing skills in every classroom? On the
vitality of our partnerships with parents,
business leaders and the media? Do we
conduct longitudinal studies of our students
after they leave our schools in order to get a
better understanding of our strengths and
areas for possible improvement?

Do we know the percentage of our kids who
come to school with a protein-rich breakfast
in their bellies and with the requisite 9 to 11
hours of restful sleep? Are our students’
brains and bodies sufficiently nourished and
hydrated throughout the day to maximize
their receptivity to learning? Do they get
enough daily exercise to produce mental
alertness in the classroom? Are our students
learning the personal management skills,
study skills and problem-solving skills they

need to survive and thrive in and out of
school?

These are only a few of the "cause" data
sets we should be collecting and examining if
we are truly serious about effective,
collaborative data-driven decision making.

Ready Avenues
My research, and that of my colleagues,
indicates that specific, practical strategies
can be used to dramatically improve every
student’s potential for learning.

The more we involve all of our students in
nonfiction writing at every grade level, in
every subject area, the more engaged and
successful they will be in school. Successful
teachers direct their students to record the
learning objectives of the class, and to write
structured daily journal and learning log
entries throughout the school day. Students
learn how to temporarily put aside thoughts
that may distract them from their learning
objectives. And parents discover what their
children are learning in school by simply
taking a look at entries in their daily journal
and learning log.

Students in the Expanding Learning
Potential project learn these success
strategies as they monitor their own focus
and energy levels throughout the day. They
examine what is good about the way they
perform their work and discover how to
improve. Students learn to monitor their own
nutrition, hydration, exercise and rest and to
take greater responsibility for their own
learning. They improve their understanding of
their own work by examining data from their
progress charts and personal-best work
collected in their performance portfolios.

If leaving no child behind is to be more than
a mantra, we must make it a way of life for
everyone, including our students, by
engaging everyone’s best collaborative
efforts in a data-rich environment dedicated
to the success of all teachers and children.


Jay Bonstingl is president and founder of Bonstingl
Leadership Development, PO Box 810, Columbia,
MD 21044. E-mail: Info@Bonstingl.com. He is the author of the bestselling book Schools of Quality.

Article copyright © 2003, John Jay Bonstingl.

 


 

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