School feedback systems have been cropping up and getting more refined over the last couple of decades. The Netherlands uses ZEBO, a school self-evaluation system in primary schools (ZEBO), the UK and Onario have individual offices, Ofsted and EQAO respectively, to provide data on student achievement and report on improvement plans and success, Dubai’s KHDA has school inspection reports with follow-ups, and the Louisiana Department of Education uses the School Analysis Model. This international list goes on.
In all of these cases which use different models, the objectives are similar: (1) To promote evidence-based school improvement and (2) accountability. I am not going to dwell on accountability and policies that work and don’t work in this blog. Instead, I want to talk about how these school feedback systems can help make schools better.
In all these cases, systematic data and information is made available to the schools. There is a lot of evidence that demonstrates that even when good data is made available to schools, the use of the data/feedback/reports still leaves a LOT to be desired. In cases where it does get taken up by teachers and school staff, there is evidence of real improvement in terms of teacher and student learning. So, we know that although it is hard to achieve, there are worthwhile results when school feedback is used well in schools.
So what’s the secret? School climate, culture, and environment. In other words, does the school encourage the use of data? Has the leadership created the conditions for teachers to access, understand, interpret the data? Do teachers have the support to consider the results and rethink their own practices?
An open, collaborative, evidence positive environment looks upon data and information as pieces of a bigger school picture. This kind of school respects teachers as professionals to individually and collectively make sense of the results and develop responsive new strategies.
So why is it rare? There is a lot of evidence that has shown that school feedback reports are received by schools, and then stored. Sometimes, they are skimmed by a couple of people to complete a school improvement plan, and then back to storage. The lack of use of these reports is well documented. I want to highlight what is surfacing as a common theme amongst successful cases.
For school feedback to make a difference in the classroom, teachers have to engage in thinking about the results as a team. This means that teachers and principals need to collaborate with purpose. School feedback can provide the direction for structured and purposeful group thinks. This kind of collaborative work is appreciated by teachers when it is practical. When teachers examine school feedback, they should be reflecting on practical real-time solutions to improve teaching and learning in the classroom.
The real struggle is not developing a school feedback system. The real struggle is encouraging the use of the feedback in the school by educators to improve schools in a sustainable manner.