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Promising practice: Expansive Measures of Success

The Need for Expansive Measures

Accurately measuring student progress is a process fraught with difficulties: interim exam scores are too infrequent to give us up to date information, and daily exit ticket scores give us a one-dimensional point-in-time snapshot of student performance. Further, achievement data only gives us one piece of the puzzle, leaving us in the dark about students’ social-emotional wellbeing, confidence in class, and trust in their teachers. The effects the pandemic has had on student achievement and wellbeing make these issues all the more urgent—we cannot afford to only look at incomplete pictures as we support our students through and beyond recovery.

What, then, should a curious educator do? How can we supplement our existing sources of achievement data with more nimble, holistic data sources to form a full picture of student progress?

The answer can be found in expansive measures: non-traditional measures that can indicate to us whether we are on track to both our achievement and non-achievement goals.

What Are Expansive Measures?

Expansive measures likely exist within every classroom, but they are not visible to everyone. Classroom teachers are the richest and most up to date sources of data and knowledge about students: on a given day, a teacher collects, stores, and interprets innumerable non-assessment-based data points within their own heads about the progress of each of their students. For example, teachers can have a sense as to whether a student will be successful on an exit ticket based on classroom actions and behaviors. With the support of school leaders and administrators, we can unlock the intuition and expertise of classroom teachers to more nimbly gauge our progress and impact. Specifically, expansive measures should:

  • Be separate from assessments: they are not grades, scores, or anything traditionally considered “student achievement data.”
  • Be easy to implement: they can be embedded in existing practices within the classroom or school.
  • Make sense: the connection between the measure and student achievement should be clear and as unambiguous as possible.

Example Expansive Measures 

The following example expansive measures aim to use student confidence as a proxy for student achievement. Research shows—and teachers intuitively know—that students who see themselves as capable learners who can surmount challenges are likely to be more engaged in class and subsequently see academic gains. Student confidence, then, can be a particularly useful measure, as it gives insight into both academic achievement and a student’s social-emotional growth.

Homework completion rates

Why: homework completion can suggest a variety of student attitudes and beliefs, such as student confidence in their understanding of content, willingness (or ability) to engage in academic work outside of school, and sense of connection to the teacher.

Indicators of success: an increase in the overall completion rate of homework within a classroom could suggest an increase in student confidence. Increases in homework quality (as defined by the teacher) could provide further evidence of student learning.

How to collect the data: classroom teachers can report out weekly homework completion rates to their school leaders.

Student questions during independent practice

Why: the types of questions students ask during independent practice can suggest their level of confidence with the work, as well as their level of engagement.

Indicators of success: we would expect students to move towards more complex questions as they gain confidence. A spectrum of questioning, from ‘disengaged and low confidence’ to ‘engaged and high confidence’ might look like students asking about:

  • Topics unrelated to IP (“can I go to the bathroom?”)
  • Instructions (“what are we supposed to be doing?”)
  • Help with content (“how do I do this?”)
  • Asking for work to be checked (“is this right?”)
  • Internalizing learning (“would it also work if I did it like this instead?”)

How to collect the data: observational data can be collected during regular classroom observation rounds; additionally, teachers can fill out a short survey each week (“During IP this week, [target group of students] mostly raised their hands to ask about _______”).

Additional examples of expansive measures can be found in this video from School Retool, which refers to expansive measures as “uncommon measures.” Note that each measure focuses on student behaviors, rather than traditional data sources, to signal progress towards goals.

Developing Your Own Expansive Measures

While the above measures may help give insights into student progress, they are not exhaustive. It is likely that teachers have their own expansive measures that they rely on each day. Conducting empathy interviews and focus groups with teachers can help you surface those measures. Ask teachers: “What student behaviors let you know that your lesson was successful?” It is likely that their answers are a type of expansive measure.

In order for teachers to feel comfortable sharing their insights, however, it is the role of leaders to create a culture of safety around expansive measures as reliable indicators of student achievement and success. For leaders thinking about co-developing expansive measures with their faculty, make sure to also develop a plan to both champion and support teachers throughout the process. Ask yourself: “what are the leadership moves I need to make in order to make this possible?”

Making the Connection Between Expansive Measures and Student Achievement

When using expansive measures as a way to gauge progress towards an academic goal, it is important to validate them with student achievement data whenever possible. As you collect more data from both expanded measures and traditional sources, ask yourself: “was this measure really an indicator of success?” If so, you may keep using your measures. If not, it is important that you update your expanded measures, and find student behaviors that better align to student success.

A useful way to engage in this validation process is to “pilot” your measures: design a small-scale experiment that aims at understanding whether a particular expansive measure was aligned with student achievement. You may, for example, spend a week recording student questions during independent practice in one or two classrooms, and compare that data to exit ticket scores. Review the data at the end of the week with your teachers and decide whether the measure is aligned to student achievement. Use your reflections to either develop a larger pilot including more classrooms, or to pivot to a different measure and a different pilot.

Expansive Measures Advance the Work of Equity

While the pandemic has highlighted the current and urgent need to adopt expansive measures, the longer-term vision of an excellent, equitable education system also necessitates their use. Traditional data sources, while important and necessary, often provide a one-dimensional point-in-time snapshot of a student’s progress. Expansive measures allow schools to understand and track the progress of the whole child, widening the aperture to add context to existing traditional student achievement data.

Rather than replacing traditional data sources, expansive measures enrich them, and in doing so allow schools to better identify marginalized students and provide them with the support they need. As you begin to think about how you might incorporate expansive measures into your school or classroom, think also about how they might live on in your school post-pandemic and help you move towards a more equitable education for all students.

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