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It was wonderful to hear the positive feedback from both parents AND teachers to the publication of the results from our First Annual Parent Survey (found here)!

Continuing with the theme of transparency, I want to now follow up and share results and ideas about how our school performed on its standardized testing.  (We take the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS)).  I actually find the Wikipedia description easier to understand than the company’s own website summary.)  I began this conversation here during the time we were actually taking the tests.  I strongly encourage you to reread (or read for the first time) my philosophy on test-taking and how we planned on both sharing the tests with parents and utilizing the data in our decision-making.

We have already gone ahead and done that which we said we would – mail out to parents all test results which fully resembled the children who took them AND met privately with parents whose children’s results required expert contextualization.  All conversations we have had with parents about testing have been fruitful.  All the data has been tabulated, filed, and prepared for dissemination with next year’s faculty who look forward to utilizing it to help each student in our school reach their maximum potential.

I wasn’t prepared to show grade and school results – not because I was concerned we might not have done well (but if I don’t show them again next year, you’ll know why!  🙂 ) – but because I really do believe that individual growth is the most appropriate metric for our school to use.  However, after our 21st Century Learning Consultant, Siliva Tolisano, put together a few infographics about our results, one was so striking that I changed my mind.  Here’s why:

My thinking has been influenced by conversations I have been having with colleagues about the different challenges Jewish day schools often have from their secular private school (and/or magnet and/or charter and/or suburban public school) neighbors.  I sometimes think biggest difference comes down to a philosophy of admissions.  Most Jewish day schools attempt to cast the widest net possible, believing it is our mission to provide a Jewish day school education to all who may wish one.  We do not, often, restrict admission to a subset of the population who score X on an admissions test and we do not, often, adjust birthday cutoffs to maximize academic achievement. However, the schools who we are most often compared to in terms of academic achievement often do one or both.  Then, if you factor in whether or not you exempt special needs students from the testing and whether or not you explicitly teach to the test, you may have quite an uneven playing field to say the least.

To reframe and reset the discussion:

Jewish day schools have an inclusive admissions policy, but are expected to compete equally with elite private (and magnet and charter and suburban public) schools who have exclusive admissions policies (or homogeneous populations).

In light of all of that – if a Jewish day school with an inclusive admissions policy, a non-exempted special needs population, and a commitment to “not teach to test” – if that kind of school could demonstrate that it was achieving secular academic excellence on par with elite schools; schools who advertise as “grade ahead schools” and often use the birthday cutoff as a means to achieving it, well to me that would be news worth sharing.  And so…without further adieu:

The bottom line of this graphic is…each grade in the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School is operating at least a grade and a half ahead in core secular academics.  There are grades whose averages are significantly higher than that, but let the boldface sink in for a bit.  Too much time dedicated to Jewish Studies?  Nope – a high-quality Jewish Studies programs enhances secular academics.  Too much time dedicated to Skyping or Tweeting?  Nope – a 21st century learning paradigm not only impacts student motivation, but leads to higher student achievement.

I can sense the tone of triumphalism in my writing and, although I am extremely proud of our students and teachers for their achievements, I do not wish to sound boastful.  But with state of Jewish day school education being what it is, when there is good news to share…share it one must!  Yes, this is just one isolated case of one Jewish day school at one moment of time – our school has to continue to excel year after year in order for the data to take on statistical significance.  [And there are amazing Jewish day schools achieving excellence throughout North America – I am a zealot to the cause and freely admit it!]

I firmly believe that Jewish day schools with dual-curricula and 21st century pedagogy and philosophy produce unmatched excellence in secular academics.  Here in our school, we will have to prove it year after year, subject after subject, and student after student in order to live up to our mutually high expectations, but what an exciting challenge it shall be coming to school each day to tackle!

So…in Part I we discussed parents and in Part II we discussed students.  Coming next week in Part III?  The teachers.  Stay tuned!