Evaluating Our School: Going Beyond the FSA’s
by Mr. Hugh Burke
As most of our families have experienced, we have an open house every Friday for families who are thinking of registering, and want to tour our school. Our students lead the tours and answer questions, but sometimes I am asked to speak to these families, and one very good question gets asked almost all of the time:
“Great tour! Great kids! But our kid’s education is so important… how can you assure us of the overall excellence of Meadowridge school? “
We suggest that anybody looking at our school should talk to our current families, and also check out local public schools; they are close, and free, and generally well-regarded. We point out that the Fraser Institute rankings are not very informative, and that visits and close study are better than any ranking. And then we go on to discuss the qualities of our school using measurements that are clear, that are at arm’s length from us, and that have been constant over time. We believe that schools should measure themselves often, measure what matters, and be transparent about it.
How can we measure the quality of schools? We measure these things:
- Quality of teaching
- Outcomes of learning
- Good governance
- Sports participation and quality and range
- Fine arts understanding and engagement
- Performing arts quality and participation
- Facilities – Safety and cleanliness and space and furnishings that work
- Food quality and health
- Finances – Cost and outcomes: the value equation
- Carrying out the mission and vision of a school
- Quality of school leadership
- Human resources practices: Decency as policy
- Community relations
- Ongoing commitment to school improvement
We put measures into place for all of our programs. Some will be numbers; others will be indicators of quality; others will depend on human judgment. A key point is this: the measures are done or verified by people outside of the school or school district. This is like asking for audited books. We trust our people, but we use a system of checks and balances, because we are human, after all. And there are always things to improve. We are very good, but not perfect, and so we keep on learning how to do even better.
We know and show the usual stuff: Our academic excellence, our graduation rate, our university placement success, the huge participation rates in Arts and Athletics, our teacher retention, our governance, our strong finances (nationally benchmarked), our warm and safe environment, and our high parent participation. But we know and can show much more, because we ask outsiders to come in and measure how well we are doing.
We are a World School member of the International Baccalaureate Organization. In the past year, we have had two Evaluation teams examine our IB programs. They send a report to our Board, based on days of observation, interviews, and data sorting. This happens every five years. As well, we voluntarily send our marked work in to this organization to make sure that world standards are met. The last full report will be discussed and shared in my next entry on the blog.
There are areas that the IBO teams do not measure. We joined “ Standards in Education and Learning, Canada” (SEAL). This is an accreditation organization recognized internationally for quality and thoroughness which has only granted membership to about 100 schools. They have developed rigorous standards by which they measure schools. We took a year to describe our practice in each of these standards, and then a team of twelve educators from across the country, chosen for their varying expertise, spent about three days examining the school and verifying our internal report. They produced a detailed arm’s length report which is given to the Board and community. This report covers everything on the list above, and more . This happens also every seven years. During this accreditation, we were very highly commended in most areas. They also provided some great minor recommendations, which we are already acting upon. We had no major recommendations, which would be any serious issue which needs fixing before accreditation is granted. To have no major recommendations is very unusual for a first-time school, and very positive. (see below for a summary of the report and our actions since).
We have inspections from the Independent Schools Branch – a full one every seven years, with a monitoring inspection between. We sign off on governance practices and ethical standards every year with the Independent Schools Association of British Columbia.
Finally, our Board conducts self-assessment every year. The Board evaluates my work every year. We have an annual financial audit (public). Right now, we are asking our parents about our school through both group sessions and online surveys.
We measure what matters so that we can support and show excellence. Our families, kids, and staff at our school, and at every school, deserve it.
Audited statements are found on the website. For a summary and our response to the SEAL report, find my report in our Annual Report here. For the full 86 page report, please contact me directly, or in the comments section of the blog. The IB report will be fully explored in my next entry. In the week after, I will discuss how we benchmark our school’s financials nationally, with comparatives.