Reflections from the ISACS Conference: How do we Articulate the Value Added of Independent School Education

By Dr. Ray Levi

As a former head of school, I hear myself and others asking: how do we articulate the value added of independent school education? In the changing educational market-place, this question is critical. Often, for prospective families, we define our value added by articulating the numerous distinctive features of our school’s program. And those offerings are indeed impressive. But, we’re living in an outcome-oriented world and we’ve struggled to find meaningful ways, consistent with our educational approaches to go beyond the anecdotal in describing student achievement.

Sessions at the ISACS Heads Conference challenged us to consider parent and community perspectives as we de-scribe our outcomes. NAIS President John Chubb asked us to consider measures that would allow parents to com-pare our schools to public schools in their communities. Conversation during sessions and over meals focused on the ways we’re wrestling with measuring outcomes:

  • Does providing outcome measures mean that we should be using the tests that dominate public school pro-grams? And of course, do these tests truly assess the depth of what we offer?
  • Are we using formative assessments to inform our teaching and are we engaging parents in the ways in which our understandings of individual students shape the program for them?
  • How do we measure the attitudes and motivation and ethical stances that are also the outcomes of independent school education?

Discussion suggested that we are wrestling with how to use data in ways that are consistent with our missions and educational approaches. As a partner with ISACS in the development of the Alumni Survey, Measuring Success has much to contribute to the conversation. Data collected from 10,000 alumni tells us that parents’ decisions about enrollment and re-enrollment are positively influenced when they know that students are well-prepared for the next level of education, are grounded by strong ethical values, and are guided by teachers who know them individually. Alumni and parent surveys focus school heads’ curricular efforts when those efforts fall short of goals. School sur-veys offer one alternative to traditional tests, particularly when we move beyond our individual school surveys and instead use the same survey as others in order to benchmark student outcomes. This ability to determine our collec-tive impact on education will only become more important as we engage with school leaders about how to use data to enhance the community’s understandings of the value added by our schools.

Dr. Ray Levi is Emeritus Head of School at the Amos and Heilicher Minneapolis Jewish Day School and Schools Associate at Measuring Success.