Can a measurement of values alter the way schools think about education?

CHRISTOPHER STARR, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING & COMMUNITY OUTREACH:

What is a brain without a heart? Not as smart, recent research suggests.

No doubt this is why truly great schools consider character education on an equal par with academic rigor.

But a difficulty arises for schools like The Peck School in Morristown, NJ, whose motto states; “In life, knowledge must be guided by values.” The problem is that knowledge can more easily be measured than character skills such as ethics, resilience, and curiosity.

Like many independent schools, The Peck School is hoping to change this dichotomy by joining a consortium of nearly 100 institutions that will conduct the Mission Skills Assessment (MSA) throughout this fall semester. The assessment has been developed over a period of five years by the Independent School Data Exchange (INDEX) and Education Testing Services (ETS) to scientifically gauge each school’s success rate in promoting six character skills that are labeled “essential” for success in school and life: teamwork, creativity, ethics, resilience, curiosity, and time management.

A study by the Rand Corporation in 2013 cites a wealth of scholarly research supporting the notion that, “intrapersonal competencies can, in some contexts, predict long-term academic and economic outcomes.” That same study indicates that the MSA provides schools with formative and summative guidance on whether they are actually meeting their mission to promote not only academic, but inter- and intrapersonal development.

The high reliability and validity of the test scores with the MSA is proving just as good if not a better predictor of academic outcomes, student quality, and student well being than other standardized tests like the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test.)

“The MSA has been touted by research and educational experts as the ‘most innovative, cost-effective, and reliable assessment of 21st century skills’ currently available,” explains Zan Struebing, School Psychologist at The Peck School, “We are excited for this opportunity to evaluate our efforts in teaching Character Education, as well as our Life Skills and Traits.”

From mid-October to mid-December this year, over 17,000 middle school students across the country will participate in the 40-minute assessment. They will self-report on their approach to and acquisition of the test’s six character skills. They will also answer questions designed to assess their “situational judgment.”

For example, they may be asked to consider a time when they were stressed due to having too much homework. Did they blame themselves for having put off the homework, try to get organized and get on top of the work, blame the teacher for giving too much work, go out and buy something as a response or take some other approach?

Data from the student’s self-assessment and situational judgments is then combined with individual and confidential teacher-rated assessments of each student. There is no tracking and reporting of individual student performance. The data is all reported at the school level for overall program evaluation.

Perhaps the greatest benefit is that the schools involved are not only measuring positive character traits, they are becoming more intentional in fostering them.

The Mission Skills Assessment is a powerful tool. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that the schools involved are not only measuring positive character traits, they are becoming more intentional in fostering them. This feeds into the academic program as well. By including facets such as “intrinsic motivation” in the grading rubrics for projects, schools discover their students become more inventive and the curriculum, in turn, becomes more engaging.

Pedagogical styles have evolved over the years, and approaches to teaching and learning have gone through monumental shifts. Recent research confirms, however, that institutions like The Peck School, established in 1893, have been on the right track since their foundation by steadfastly asserting that, “In life, knowledge must be guided by values.” The Rand Corporation would no-doubt agree.

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