Board creating scorecard to gauge schools’ progress

It’s not unusual for organizations to draft strategic plans filled with ideas for improvement, goals they want to reach and strategies to solve problems they hope to rectify.

In September, the Jefferson City Public School Board of Education approved a similar plan that educational leaders had been working on for months.

This week, they went one step further by asking: How can we measure if we are meeting those goals or not?

Board members met with the JCPS central office this week to try to find a way to measure each of about 30 goals and objectives laid out in the plan. In the end, they hope to create a “dashboard” or “scorecard” that community observers can look at to see how the district is performing.

“I’ve been working on strategic plans for 25 years ... most collect dust on a shelf,” said board member Doug Whitehead. “And this is the first time I’ve worked on something that we plan to measure. It’s an awesome thing.”

The group found that while some of the goals — such as increasing student attendance to meet state standards — were relatively straightforward to analyze, others — such as decreasing the number of out-of-school suspensions by 2 percent every year — were harder to quantify.

For example, if total enrollment is waxing or waning, how does that correlate to the number of out-of-school suspensions? And how should repeat offenders be counted?

“You could have a decrease in the number of disciplinary events equal to decreases in enrollment,” noted Dawn Berhorst, who leads the district’s Student Information, Planning and Assessment Department.

In the end, one of the study groups suggested the data will take into consideration changes in the district’s enrollment size.

The JCPS strategic plan also calls for increasing the number of students who participate in extracurricular activities. That category was also hard to measure because the district currently has no mechanism for recording student participation levels in the clubs that aren’t regulated by the Missouri School High School Activities Association.

“How do you know if a student signs up for a club but never attends the meetings?” asked David Luther, who leads the school-community relations department.

They also wondered — if the goal is truly to include more people — how to record the efforts of go-getters who love to participate in everything, but who might mask the problem of less-involved students.

School administrators were cognizant of the fact that teachers already have many tasks on their plates and they didn’t want to add more busy work.

Kathy Foster, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said she doesn’t want to get to a point where her teachers are telling her, “I am spending more time entering data into the Infinite Campus portal than I am teaching.”

Infinite Campus is an online tool that allows parents to access their children’s grades and other school-related reports.

“We don’t want it to become a paperwork logistical nightmare. We want it to be efficient,” Luther said.

One of the strategic plan’s goals also called for “increasing positive communications between schools and parent/guardians and community.” The goal calls for implementing a district-wide system to record those positive contacts, and it asks that progress on this measure be reported quarterly.

That concept proved to be a particularly sticky wicket because school leaders weren’t sure how to record each and every interaction a teacher might have with a parents, and they weren’t sure what constitutes a “positive contact,” since sometimes teachers are the bearers of bad news.

And does simply saying “Hi” to a parent in the parking lot constitute a positive contact? What about an e-mail?

Foster noted most teachers already talk to or correspond with their students’ parents each and every quarter. “But a few aren’t there yet,” she said.

They considered asking teachers to check a box — possibly on Infinite Campus — to show they’ve taken the step of reaching out to parents.

“But you don’t want to turn it into a compliance thing for teachers, because then it’s not meaningful,” she said.

Berhorst — whose department is leading the effort to find ways to measure all these goals and objectives — wanted school leaders to help her with several other categories.

One of the goals calls for ensuring the recruitment, hiring and retention of “highly qualified” staff. “How do you measure quality?” she quizzed.

Another goal calls for increasing the number of students in early childhood programming, which might take more funding to accomplish.

The group also plans to use data from the Missouri Assessment Program to help them close the achievement gap between at-risk students and higher achievers.

The strategic plan also calls for a tool to measure the level of satisfaction students are feeling for their teachers and that staff are feeling for their administrators.

“We do not have a decent culture and climate survey that quizzes every student, teacher and parent in the building ... we need something we can use every year,” Luther said.

Whitehead noted the lack of parental engagement is a failure of American schooling from coast to coast.

“We’re trying to reach the kids who need positive parental involvement in their lives,” Whitehead said. “We’re trying to solve these problems because parents are not engaged.”

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