Systematic evaluation of student learning and success

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One of the most important qualities to be desired in today's schools is success. This does not include only the test scores and evaluations that schools receive, but also high expectations, emphasis on basic skills, strong leadership, etc. In chapter 3 of our class textbook, "Becoming a Teacher", discusses and describes the role of schools, some of the social implications that people place upon the educators and many of the social risks that affect students. The objective of successful schools is to help the students to progress throughout their academic careers with high standards so that when they become working citizens they will use those same qualities to produce and effective and successful society.

School effectiveness is founded on several factors, one of such are the characteristics of an successful school. There are many aspects that are identifiable within effective learning facilities that help to improve our schools.

Strong leadership

High expectations

Emphasis on basic Skills

Orderly school environments

Frequent, systematic evaluation of student learning

Sense of purpose

Collegiality and Sense

School effectiveness was defined by Georgopoulos & Tannenbaum (1957: p.534) [1] as 'the extent to which any (educational) organization as a social system, given certain resources and means, fulfils its objectives without incapacitating its means and resources and without placing undue strain upon its members'. There isn't much dispute between this interpretation and that of Mortimore (1991:p.9) [2] , who also defines effective schools as 'ones in which pupils progress further than might be expected from consideration of its intake'. This leaves very little to no doubt that the purpose of having effective school systems is to promote progress in the learning and devlopement in all students and surplus the rate of achievement. There is little doubt in our minds that effective schools are those that successfully progress the learning and development of all their students. 'The good school is a community of learning. It produces well-educated people' Ungoed-Thomas (1997:p.3) [3] . In the classroom is where teachers conduct their work, which is to produce educated people. School is a very crucial social institution for students because they spend the entirety of their childhood in the school system, being molded and prepared for life after school.

There is no definite definition to school effectiveness. However, we can identify some characteristics that contribute to school effectiveness. Brighouse and woods (1999:p.11) [4] mention that there are seven processes that encompassed most activities of school life:

· The practice of teaching and learning

· The practice of management and organization

· The practice of collective review

· The creation of an environment most suitable for learning

· The promotion of staff development

Also, Peter Mortimore and others listed the characteristics of successful schools as:

· Maximum communication between teachers and pupils

· Positive climate (1998:p.10) [5] 

Further more, Sergiovanni (1995) identified some of the characteristics of effective schools as,

· Provide instructions that promote student learning

Sammons et al. (1995:p.31) identify the most important eleven factors of effective schools:

· Concentration on teaching and learning

Smith and Tomlinson (1989:p.10) both guide us to the characteristics of successful schools as:

· Leadership and management in the school by:

· Teacher involvement in decision making (in curriculum, methods, organizations use of resources, whole school policies).

· Climate of respect (teachers-teachers, pupils-pupils, pupils-teachers, teachers-parents, ect), including respect for other cultures, languages, religions, ect.

· Positive feedback to the treatment of pupils.

To start with, effectiveness research mentions "strong educational leadership" as an important factor in school effectiveness', Reynolds, Bollen, Creamers, Hopkins, Stoll & Lagerweij (1996:p.15). Effective schools need good leaders and dedicated managers. The principal should be qualified, competent and experienced. He should provide good leadership and vision for the school community and strive to improve the school. He should be a wise manager of resources and works co-operatively with staff and students. 'The educational leader of the school seems to be a key person in the integration of school effectiveness', Reynolds, Bollen, Creamers, Hopkins, Stoll & Lagerweij (1996:p.15).

The National Commission on Education (1993:p.229) agreed that 'good leadership is one of the key features of successful schools'. Effective schools should have leaders who create and communicate a vision for the school that is because schools today want leaders who have vision.

Increasingly, vision is seen as a core leadership task that must be mastered by all leaders (Lashway, 2000). Under the leadership of the school principal, the school mission and goals are clearly stated and regularly reviewed. In the effective school there should be a clearly articulated school mission through whom the staff shares an understanding of and commitment to the instructional goals, priorities, assessment procedures and accountability.Also, Leaders have to be good motivators. Inspirational motivation occurs when leaders motivate and inspire followers by providing meaning and challenge to their work; for example, giving inspirational talks, communicating vision and acting in ways that encourage enthusiasm (Awamleh and Gardiner, 1999).

Collegiality among the teachers and staff of the effective school is also an important factor. Collegiality maintains support between the school staff and the exchange of experience. Teachers would share the new ideas and methods of effective teaching. The relationship between staff should be built on trust, moral, intimacy and friendly social relations.

A strong and professional teacher is another important factor in the effective school. The teachers in an effective school should be those that are qualified, competent and highly educated. They have positive attitudes and high morale. They should elicit optimal student achievement and develop students' critical thinking, problem solving and creativity. They are sensitive to individual students needs and maintain effective discipline. They should also welcome parent's participation in the learning process. Effective teachers are those who recognize individual students´ needs and provide additional academic assistance whenever possible.

The effective school exhibits a climate of high expectations in which the teachers demonstrates the belief that all students can attain mastery of basic skills and the staff has the capability to help all students attain this mastery.

It is clear that school effectiveness is mainly determined by classroom effectiveness, which brings the teaching/learning process into the centre of the improvement process. The teachers' role is a very important variable in the determination of effectiveness. But the other side of the coin is that the teachers' role should change. 'Improvement towards effectiveness will have to lean upon teachers' willingness to adopt a different cultural, as well as organizational, view on their own profession, Reynolds, Bollen, Creamers, Hopkins, Stoll & Lagerweij (1996:p.11).

'Looking at the strategic planning phase, school effectiveness knowledge will help strategic planners to keep in mind that, ultimately, the effectiveness of the school has to be delivered at the classroom level and in particular in the actual teaching/learning process. School effectiveness knowledge illuminates what is the core activity in schools and what is conditional for it to improve. Planning for effectiveness will be inadequate without that focus', Reynolds, Bollen, Creamers, Hopkins, Stoll & Lagerweij (1996:p.15)

'To make the effective school work, we need improvement strategies that will mould teachers' cultures and behaviours in such a way that pupil behaviour will change. The effective school is, in the end, characterised by the effective behaviours of its learners.

The teachers can be held responsible for that, and the school has to create and sustain the climate and the culture in which an effective teaching learning process will flourish', Reynolds, Bollen, Creamers, Hopkins, Stoll & Lagerweij (1996:p.11)

The sum of all students' academic achievement is usually regarded as a measure of a school's effectiveness (Good & Brophy, 1986). Therefore, one of the major concerns among educators is to enhance the students' academic achievement. Teachers and students work in an environment of continuous assessment and evaluation of students´ progress.

In the effective school student academic progress is measured frequently through a variety of assessment procedures. The results of these assessments are used to improve individual student performance and also to improve the instructional program.

Adequate facilities with regard to classroom size and dimensions, technology, school budget and teacher training should be provided. These, such as computers, will provide an inducement to develop the teaching/learning process.

Parent participation and community involvement are two essential factors in the effectiveness of a school. The school environment should encourage parents and carers to visit and participate in school life. School staff and the parent community should work together to achieve the goal of an effective learning school.

The parents should recognize that the partnership between them and the teachers lead to better learning outcomes. In the effective school parents understand and support the schools basic mission and are given the opportunity to play an important role in helping the school to achieve this mission. Therefore, parents are engaged in their child's education.

Kathleen Cotton (1995) mentioned some key factors in support of student success. These include, efficient planning and clear goals, validated organization and management practices, strong leadership and continuous improvement, positive staff and student interactions, a commitment to educational equity, regular assessment, support programs, and positive relationships with parents and community members.

The relationship between students and their teacher is the teachers' responsibility, so she/he should seek to create a special relation with the students. Teachers should be friendly, honest. He should have high considerations for the students through encouraging, supporting and involving them in the classroom activities and overall in the school activates.

School staff and teachers should accept responsibility for students. The good or bad achievement student's gain is due to the support and care given by teachers and staff to students. Students want to feel that they are in a secure climate that will help improve their achievement.

Teachers should create and foster learning environments where all children are challenged to learn. In the effective school there is an orderly, purposeful, business like atmosphere, which is free from the threat of physical harm. The school climate is not oppressive and is conducive to teaching and learning.

The climate of an effective school is safer, quieter, cleaner and more orderly than that of a non-effective school. The term "safe environment" refers not only to the physical condition of the school, but also means that it is a place which is free from physical or verbal aggression, harassment or discrimination. Students must feel secure in their school community so that their energies can be applied to learning.

Every successful school develops an environment that nurtures student achievement and personal development:

· Student settings, either class size or student population, are small.

· Ground rules set the tone for respectful behaviour.

· High expectations and clear consequences are articulated to students frequently.

· Structured daily and classroom routines provide stability and direction.

School effectiveness is an important issue when trying to decide which schools are effective. We have looked at the most important factors to consider when determining the effectiveness of a school.

Effective leadership is an important factor as well as the effective teachers themselves. The safe and warm environment student learn in certainly participates to there learning achievement. The curriculum taught and the parent's involvement in their child's education and activities are also important factors of effective schools. Given these factors, nowadays school effectiveness is easier to determine than it was before.

At-Risk Students

Historical Overview

Overall "student performance was lower in the early 1900s than it is today, quite possibly because schools felt much less pressure than they do today to achieve equity and excellence among students" (Rossi, 1994, p.4). While many of the challenges schools encountered during the early 20th century the same challenges in present day schools, they were not addressed back then because they were not a priority. The focus on equity and excellence that has been developed since the turn of the century is worthy of praise (Rossi, 1994, p.4).

Throughout much of U.S. history, the separate and unequal schooling of diverse groups has been reinforced. Ethnicity and class have been perhaps the most obvious basis for discrimination, but other student characteristics, such as gender and disability, have also been used to separate students and place them into appropriate courses regardless of their potential or interest (Rossi, 1994). Soon, reform movements, dating back to the 19th century, to provide all students with a common and equal education that cut across differences in class, ethnicity and religion became a focus.

Diversity among students including differences in culture, language and socioeconomic stance is not a new trend The difference, however, is that today, the school system realizes that all students, including those who differ in some way from the "average" student, or those "at-risk" must be provided with an equal, opportune education (Morris, 1991).

Defining Students At-Risk

Sometimes, determining when students are at risk can be a difficult task. The term "at-risk" has been used to describe a particular category of students who, on the basis of several risk factors, are unlikely to graduate from high school (Land, Stringfield, 2002). Yet educators are also confronted with children who have other at-risk conditions. For example, educators will be responsible for working with students who are at risk due to health problems, substance abuse, disabilities, socioeconomic status and other various reasons. These conditions can make students academically at-risk, or in danger of not meeting their educational potential. The use of the term "at-risk" to describe learners is often controversial and deserves consideration, as the at-risk label can convey a negative connotation.

Causes of At-Risk Conditions

Determining the cause of at risk conditions can be helpful and can contribute to the development of reform programs. First, school conditions might actually be creating at-risk conditions. " Inappropriate instruction, competitive learning environments, ability grouping and hostile classroom environments are just a few ways schools contribute to the problem" (Muller, 2001, p.34). Second, at risk characteristics can result from societal factors. For example, the American society's tendency to be racist and sexist and to discriminate against culturally diverse groups, females, and adolescents with disabilities all contribute to learners being at risk. Third, personal causes might include lower self-concepts, lower ability, lack of motivation, and a decision to experiment with drugs and alcohol (Muller, 2001). Some students may be at risk due to a combination of these factors, as well. For example, a student might have low intellectual ability, a history of lower academic achievement, a poor self-concept, a life-style of poverty and may also attend an inner-city school. In such a situation, the student is exposed to various factors and some may be more prominent than others.

Teenage pregnancy remains the major reason for students leaving school. Sexually active teens do not use contraception "consistently or effectively and almost 20% of all teens have an unintended pregnancy" (Shanley, 1999, p. 22). "The consequences of teenage pregnancy can be harsh in social, economic and educational costs" (Shanley, 1999, p. 22). Experimenting with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs increases student's tendency of being at risk. Whether caused by wanting to act more mature, peer pressure, or conforming to societal expectations, the tobacco, alcohol and drug problem undoubtedly represents a serious at-risk threat to young people (Laidler, 2002). Juvenile delinquency and gangs also contribute to the factors that place students at risk of failure. " Juvenile delinquency refers to antisocial and lawbreaking activities that are reported to authorities" (Chapman, Sawyer, 2002, p. 237). One survey of nearly 1400 male and female teenagers indicated that 80% or more had participated in some form of delinquent behavior such as drinking, theft, or using false identification (Chapman, Sawyer, 2002, p. 237). Gangs are also another problem contributing to students at risk. These groups are motivated by violence, intimidation and illegal trafficking of drugs and weapons. One can easily see how students can be placed at risk when gangs market drugs and weapons. The socioeconomic stance of a student may also contribute to them being at risk. Although, poverty cannot be used alone to determine academic potential, low income has also been linked with other risk factors such as low ability, lack of motivation, or poor health (Means, Chelemer, Knapp, 1991). Poverty often has a more profound impact on culturally diverse students and adds to the likelihood of these groups being at risk. The family structure can either be a cause of the lower socioeconomic stance or can contribute to the problem. The consequences of poverty can be devastating to developing students. For example, " poor children are less likely to receive the key building blocks of early development, such as adequate nutrition, decent medical care, a safe and secure environment and access to early childhood development programs to supplement learning opportunities in the home" (Reglin, 1998, p. 21). Poor children are far more likely to fall behind in school. For example, 16-year-olds who lived at least half their lives in poverty are twice as likely to have repeated at least one grade as those whose families have never been poor (Reglin, 1998). Poor teenagers are four times more likely than wealthy teens to have below-average basic academic skills and regardless of their race, are nearly three times more likely to drop out of school (Reglin, 1998).

The Statistics

Underachievement or failing to achieve at one's potential is a common problem facing both at-risk students and their educators. The number of students falling behind by one or more grade levels in school provides disturbing and convincing evidence that educator's should identify lower achievers at the earliest possible time. For example, in 1985, 26.6% of 9-year-old males and 21.4% of females were one or more grade levels behind in school. The percentages rise, as children grow older: 31.7% of 13-year-old males and 24.0% of females were falling behind (Land, Stringfield, 2002). 'Students may be labeled as dropouts when they leave school for reasons other than promotion, transfer, graduation, or death" (Benning, Mortson, Maginssan, 1991, p. 27). The number of dropouts and the number of students who are at risk for dropping out are disturbing. During 1988, 4.3 million students older than age 14, 11%, dropped out of school (Benning, Mortson, Maginssan, 1991). The consequences of dropping out are disturbing for the individual and for society as a whole. Each year's class of high school dropouts costs $296 billion in lost productivity and forgone taxes during the course of their lifetime (Benning, Mortson, Maginssan, 1991). The unemployment rate for dropouts is more than 25%, and of those who can find employment, two-thirds earn only minimum wage(Benning, Mortson, Maginssan, 1991). Although dropouts face a discouraging economic future, other problems are also apparent, such as "loss of self-esteem, a sense of failure or inability to achieve, lack of opportunities throughout ones life and perhaps a lack of self-satisfaction with ones life" (Benning, Mortson, Maginssan, 1991, p. 27).

The Consequences of Student Failure

The consequences of lower achievement can have a serious impact on students' attitudes toward education and on their future career goals. A young person who leaves school with inadequate skills will be increasingly at a disadvantage in the job market (Ogle, 1997). Furthermore, high school graduates are more likely to be employed than high school dropouts, and those with higher levels of education are more likely than those with less education to receive promotions (Ogle, 1997). Failure often leads to additional failure or the expectation to fail. Once students are labeled as failures, the tasks of catching up and achieving at expected levels are difficult tasks. Lower achievement often leads to a lower self-concept, which only worsens the situation. Also, once students are functioning below grade level, the tendency to fall further behind increases with each additional grade. Both the student and the nation as a whole suffer when students fail to achieve at their academic potential.

Strategies to Help At-Risk Learners

Nearly everyone agrees that conventional teaching methods are less effective for these young people and that conditions in their homes and communities do not support learning. How can we respond appropriately to students who have special needs without treating them differently from others? Compensatory education is an effort by schools to provide special instruction for students whose out of school lives are considered to be so different from that of most students that they are at a disadvantage in the regular school program (Hollinger, Talley, 1998). These programs seek to improve educational experiences for disadvantaged children. "Advocates of the compensatory program believe remedial programs and special activities can compensate for the disadvantages experienced by students and can result in more effective learning and increased academic achievement" (Lyons, 2002, p. B1) An example of such a program is entitled, Chapter 1. Passed in 1965, "the act provided $1 billion in funds to supplement and improve the education of economically disadvantaged students" (Shanley, 1999, p.35). Compensatory programs usually provide remedial instruction, special activities, and supplemental services intended to make instruction for disadvantaged students more effective and to produce greater achievement (Lyons, 2002). These efforts include early childhood education programs for high-risk students, family intervention programs, special guidance and counseling, tutoring services and dropout programs. Chapter 1, mentioned earlier, uses five principal methods in an attempt to help students at risk thrive. Pullout refers to students being taken out of their homeroom classes for 30-40 minute periods, during which they receive helpful instruction in a subject that has been causing them difficulty. In-class refers to time dedicated by the teachers to the students within regular class hours. Add-on refers to teachers providing services outside the regular classroom, as in summer school or after school programs. Replacement involves pacing Chapter 1 students in self-contained classes in which they receive most or all of their instruction. Finally, school wide projects; refer to programs in which all students at risk have special education experiences (Lyons, 2002).

The School's Role

The school's role in helping at risk students lies in several broad areas. One of the schools primary roles is to identify at-risk students, and then to evaluate the severity of at-risk conditions. All school personnel should be involved in this identification process that is responsible for helping at risk students. The dilemma facing many at-risk students is too big for one person to identify and address alone. Educators must rely on appropriate checklists to determine who is and who is not at risk (Hixon, Tinzman, 1990). Checklists for at-risk conditions should incorporate all the factors mentioned earlier. "Curricular, organizational, instructional and management practices used with most students are inappropriate for at-risk learners. The curriculum may be irrelevant, instructional approaches may foster competition, organizational approaches may require tracking or ability grouping, and management practices may be inflexible" (Lehr, Harris, 1998, p. 73). In other words, to assume that students at-risk learn in ways similar to successful students can be a serious error and lead to teachers' approaches being incompatible with learners' perspectives or styles of learning. Alternative learning environments include cooperative learning, grouping patterns other than ability grouping, individualized instruction, classroom management practices promoting harmony over control, and learning opportunities where educators and students agree on a contract specifying individual educational goals and the means to accomplish these goals (Lehr, Harris, 1998).

Parental Involvement

Educators working with at-risk students need to understand and accept the school's role of engaging parents and families in all aspects of the education program (Funkhouser, Gonzales, 1997). Reasons for involving parents in the education process include the positive relationship existing between parent involvement and school achievement, increased student attendance, positive parent-learner communication, improved student attitudes and behavior, and more parent-community support(Funkhouser, Gonzales, 1997). Another reason includes parents providing information and insights that may not be clear to teachers and administrators. Also, educators who understand parents' perspectives and concerns usually better understand at-risk learners and their problems. Finally, students who see their parents actively participate in educational efforts may be more inclined to give their best effort in school and to cooperate then when educators work alone (Funkhouser, Gonzales, 1997).


In conclusion, educators should be challenged and motivated to address the needs of at-risk students. Meeting this challenge requires educators to form "an awareness of at-risk learners and their conditions, learn indicators that suggest possible at-risk conditions to be addressed, and provide alternative curricular content and instructional approaches" (Means, Chelemer, Knapp, 1991, p. 57). These challenges cannot be taken lightly or half-heartedly. Unmet personal potential can have a profound affect on an individual and society as a whole. The degree of success reached in helping at-risk learners will depend a great deal on the educators' motivation to help at-risk students. " Some teachers say, " I was not trained to teach at-risk learners, I was trained in English or Mathematics." These teachers would be unlikely candidates to work successfully with at-risk students" (Chapman, Sawyer, 2001, p. 239). Teachers who are effective and successful with at-risk learners accept the challenge to help all learners rather than just those who are academically successful. As mentioned earlier, the challenge cannot be taken lightly. The consequences for children, adolescents, and American society are too great for educators to neglect.