Current Issues

Assessing Expected Student Outcomes

If your school has developed and committed to a list of expected student outcomes (ESOs) then assessing the growth of students towards these outcomes is a high priority. The integrity of the school could be in question if it publishes its commitment to such goals, but then institutes no processes for accountability in reaching them. Since the school invests significant resources (time, finances, materials) to promoting student growth toward the ESOs, assessing the impact of such investment is also a matter of good stewardship.

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However, measuring growth is complex. The assessment of ESOs needs to be carefully designed in order to ensure that it does not promote a judgemental culture based on “spiritual performance”. The development of ESOs in the lives of students is ultimately a work of God through His Spirit in their hearts. Such things are not always visible nor easily discerned. However, what is going on invisibly does tend to reveal itself through repeated patterns of behavior over time. With this dynamic tension in mind, I offer the following suggestions regarding assessment of ESOs…

  • Keep assessment focused on things that the school has responsibility for – that is, the programs, practices and policies implemented by the school. Ask questions about the impact of these on student growth, rather than questions that invite judgements about individual students. Look for trends and patterns across your student population, and ask questions about what might be causing the things you see.
  • Invite wide participation in the process. The voice of the students themselves is particularly important here. How could you invite them to reflect and provide feedback on features of school life that they feel are positively contributing to their growth? Are you brave enough to let students point out to you the features of school life that are negatively impacting their growth?
  • Remain modest and humble about the conclusions you make, acknowledging the potential for misconceptions and blind-spots. Share your conclusions with the school community and invite their insights.
  • Develop a variety of ways (qualitative and quantitative) to assess ESOs, and use them frequently. Conclusions drawn from one assessment cycle can be “tested” in the next, as feedback is received on the impact of any changes made.

Has your school developed a process for assessment of expected student outcomes? Sharing your experiences in the comments below will help schools that are working to develop their own processes.

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