Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What defines a high performing school district

What defines a "high performing school district"?  Thoughtful observers realize it is impossible to capture complex processes like education only through simple snapshots such as standardized test scores.  However, the public rightfully insists upon accountability through some type of criteria-based assessment equitable to all schools and communities.

The State of New Jersey assesses its school districts using a process called the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC).  QSAC consists of five areas for review: Instruction & Program, Fiscal Management, Personnel, Governance, and Operations.  In order to be considered high performing, a school district must achieve at least 80% in each review area.

The Newton Public Schools were recently assessed by the NJ Department of Education using QSAC and passed in all five areas.  Notably, the area of Instruction & Program has shown the greatest improvement.  A major reason is that the metric used in QSAC has changed from a heavy emphasis on test score performance to a more balanced perspective that includes academic growth, curricular alignment, and other relevant performance data (i.e., graduation rate, chronic absenteeism).

And yet, the change in assessment metrics has just cast a brighter light on the real instructional improvements that have been happening in the Newton Public Schools.  Since 2013, the Board of Education has adopted annual district goals to promote more student-centered instruction, particularly through blended learning.  We have developed a vision for instructional practice and engaged in ongoing, job-embedded professional development to build skills and knowledge in current best practices. 

Our students have responded with increasing levels of academic performance and growth through a classroom environment that encourages hands-on learning, critical thinking, real-world problem solving, and data-driven interventions.

Passing QSAC is a real accomplishment, as our staff has done great work to increase student-centered learning and provide instructional supports to enhance student growth in literacy.  Our work this year (and moving forward) in mathematics should lead to comparable gains keeping us on a strong trajectory of academic improvement.  

What defines a "high performing school district"?   A consistent record of success as demonstrated by multiple measures.  In so many ways, the Newton Public Schools continue to live our mission to "educate the whole child".  Congratulations to our students, parents, staff, and community!

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