Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Benchmarks Don't Lie

I share this story because it marks such a rare occurrence: A positive news story in a Philadelphia newspaper about Edison Schools. More importantly, this story demonstrates how quickly the education establishment will respond to any competition and change instructional practices to meet the competition.

The article describes Edison's benchmark testing program, which has an instant feedback loop so that teachers immediately know their students' academic weaknesses and can tailor their lesson plans to meet student needs.

The Benchmarks lab is where second through eighth graders come each month to answer reading, math and language arts questions geared to the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), the state's achievement test.

Used correctly, Vasconez said, the Benchmarks tests can change how schools operate. They allow teachers to get instant feedback on what students are learning and what they are missing. The teachers, in turn, can tailor their lessons to the weak spots of an individual far sooner than they typically can now.

However, the most telling part of the article is how quickly district schools are adopting Edison's testing practices.

The Philadelphia School District seems to agree that programs such as Benchmarks can affect teaching results. It has contracted with Princeton Review and Schoolnet to install a system similar to Benchmarks in its 21 "restructured" schools, which received extra resources to compete with the privately managed ones.

Competition matters. When students have any alternative to the traditional public schools, public schools change their practices to retain students.

It is worth reading just to understand the serious obstacles Edison continues to face in implementing their best education practices. They persevere to the benefit of many disadvantaged children.

While only Edison can be held accountable for its rough ride, Edison's slogan rings true: "Benchmarks don't lie." Too bad so many public schools don't have any.

No comments: