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School district adopts new metrics to evaluate performance

By James Grob,

The state and federal government have established criteria for measuring the success of a school district and identifying areas of educational need.

Metrics include things like graduation rates, college preparedness and — mostly — test scores.

“We get a lot of scores imposed on us by the state and federal government, and private entities,” said Charles City Superintendent of Schools Mike Fisher. “That’s fine, we have to live up to those. But we also want the scores that matter the most to our customers.”

By “customers,” Fisher means the students and families in the Charles City School District.

“How do we know if we’re winning?” Fisher asked, rhetorically. “How do we know if we’re healthy? We need something to look at beyond just those scores.”

At Monday’s meeting of the Charles City School District Board of Education, Communication Director Justin DeVore presented the board with a list of performance metrics intended to help the district measure and evaluate itself.

“One of the things we wanted to do was come up with metrics to show if we are healthy and if we are winning” as a school district, DeVore said. “These metrics have been vetted by students — who are our primary customer — as well as parents, teachers and senior leaders.”

DeVore said the four main areas the district will look to track over the next few years are achievement, culture and climate, leadership and experience.

The achievement criteria will focus primarily on the percentage of students who closed an achievement gap, job-related credits earned by students, dual credit classes offered in conjunction with area community colleges and graduates who are gainfully employed or seeking higher education.

The school district is tracking alumni by conducting follow-up studies on graduates after one year, five years and 10 years. Fisher said the district has a secretary who is assigned to pretty much just calling graduates.

“We want to know what our students are doing after high school, and if they’re living up to what their plans were,” DeVore said.

Under the culture and climate criteria, the district is focusing on how satisfied students, staff and parents are with the culture of the district, and also looking at staff retention rates. The district is also looking at open enrollment numbers — how many students enroll into the district as well as how many students in the community choose to enroll outside the district.

As to the leadership criterion, Charles City will try to track leadership opportunities and training for students.

“There is a big focus on student leadership in our district, and we want to continue that,” DeVore said. “One of the really neat things that is happening is we have student leaders who want to continue that leadership training, even during this shutdown. They are making plans to do that.”

The final piece of the puzzle the district will measure is student participation rates in performing arts, athletics, workforce preparedness and other activities.

DeVore detailed how the metrics were determined at the meeting. He said the district started with a group of students, parents, teachers and senior leaders who brainstormed and winnowed it down to the metrics favored by that group.

From there, they selected one student group, one teacher group and one parent group and asked them all for feedback.

“This came very organically,” DeVore said. “Everyone had an equal voice.”

Two school board members were part of the process as well.

“We’re really excited about this because we want the scores that matter to our family and teachers,” Fisher said, although he admitted he had some uncertainties as to what the data would show. “Some of these things I’m kind of scared of. We don’t know what the metrics will be, once we start measuring.”

Fisher said some of the metrics would be challenging to measure accurately, and thought there may be some “soft areas” the district would have to address.

“As we start getting into the data, we know we’ll have some things to celebrate, but we also know we’re going to expose some weak spots that we’ll have to get better at,” he said.