If Not Common Core, What About Benchmarks of Quality?

In Wisconsin, we narrowly avoided dumping the Common Core State Standards. Many states are seeing the same political battle over CCSS, for a variety of reasons. I myself am not opposed to them, and see the benefits in having specific grade level expectations in literacy and numeracy.

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photo credit: William M Ferriter via photopin cc

But what if they do go away? It is not out of the question. The arguments against these standards, such as how they might lead to a lack of autonomy in schools, are legitimate. If repealing the CCSS were to occur, I suggest Benchmarks of Quality.

Any school that is implementing Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) is probably familiar with Benchmarks of Quality. Also known as BoQs, it is an evaluation tool “to provide a way to assess and identify areas of strength and need for establishing future action plans for sustained implementation” (MiBLSi, retrieved here). There is generally around 50 or so statements that a leadership team would review, such as “Problem behaviors are identified” and “Team has a clear mission/purpose”. A participating school is evaluated against each statement, and rated as “In place”, “Needs improvement”, or “Not in place”.

Our school just went through this process today. Peg, our PBIS consultant, walked through the building for 2-3 hours this morning. She asked many questions of the students, staff, and me. “What are your schoolwide expectations?”, “Who is your PBIS team leader?”, and “How often do you meet as a leadership team?” were some of the inquiries. We were high in several areas. In the few we weren’t, constructive and specific feedback was provided on how to improve. Using a simple formula, the BoQ assessment will tell us how well we have implemented the critical elements of this initiative.

The process does not single out any one person, either teacher or student. Any individual issues are expected to be handled by leadership at the site level. System assessment tools such as Benchmarks of Quality focus on the building as a whole. They put “positive pressure” on learning organizations, a term shared by Michael Fullan in his book The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact (Wiley, 2014). This is different than the current academic assessment system many of us experience, which has a much larger focus on individual and small group results. Tying a teacher’s evaluation to the performance of any one individual, using a crude instrument such as a standardized assessment, fails to take into account all the outside factors that may impact a student’s performance. We end up with a deficit model and unhealthy competition.

Standards of some form, and hopefully Common Core, should still be in place for schools. Schools need to have something to strive for as learners. But that doesn’t mean it should also dictate how we teach, which can occur if the mandated assessments use these results for school performance ratings and teacher evaluations. Benchmarks of Quality would put positive pressure on schools and districts to come together on behalf of not only their students but best practice, too.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 17-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher. After seven years of teaching, he served as a dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt is now an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

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