This year continues to bring surprises as schools seek to address learning loss, support staff and students with very real mental health concerns, and develop, maintain, or recreate a culture that is welcoming and safe. In addition to all this, school are still being held to high academic, financial, and operational standards.
Two years ago, we began work on CARS 3.0—the next iteration of the CSI annual accountability system. We knew we wanted to continue to iterate towards a tool that provides a comprehensive and meaningful evaluation of school quality.
We also knew we wanted to incorporate new measures of school quality and tweak some of the existing ones.
What we didn’t know was how much the COVID-19 pandemic would influence our thinking.
We have had to grapple with some immediate logistical questions such as: In periods where state academic assessment results are limited, how do we measure school quality?
And, we have had to grapple with philosophical questions: What makes a quality school? Who decides? And, who may be left out of those decisions and how does that affect the outcome?
While academic outcomes will always have a place in our accountability system, these last two years have made us especially aware of outcomes that aren’t always measured but are very much central to the work of our schools.
Unique Schools, Unique Measures
CSI authorizes schools that offer 16 different educational models and each school has its own unique mission and focuses.
For example, Mountain Song Community School, a Waldorf school in Colorado Springs, recently hosted its Festival of Courage. As Mountain Song shared on social media:
Last week, we celebrated our Festival of Courage with stories depicting an archetypal struggle with a dragon.
In some myths, a brave soul battles and slays a dangerous dragon. In others, a dragon is tamed. Sometimes dragons are ferocious. Sometimes they are wise. In some cultures, the dragon is the highest in the hierarchy of animals. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
At Mountain Song, we try to face, befriend, and tame our dragons while respecting their intense power. On Friday, our students were put to the test. We started the day in song. Then, they had sword fights, did obstacle courses, walked tightropes, made dragon bread and created dragon art. ⠀⠀⠀⠀
We loved seeing them stand a little taller at pickup and walk in this morning a little more sure of themselves.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Did you notice the difference in your child?
How might we consider the development of a child’s confidence or more broadly, their social emotional well-being?
Or take Ross Montessori, a Montessori school in Carbondale. Ross recognizes that “the spiritual preparation of the adult is a big part of Montessori instruction.” The school’s PE Instructor not only teaches yoga to students but also to staff.
How might we consider staff retention as a measure of school quality?
There’s also New Legacy Charter School, an Aurora school for pregnant and parenting teens and their young children. The mission of New Legacy is to offer young parents a rigorous, relevant, and engaging education so they are empowered with the skills needed to raise healthy children and graduate prepared for success in college and careers. In line with its mission and embedded in each high schooler’s academic plan are courses on parenting.
How might we support schools in evaluating achievement of mission-specific measures?
And, the list goes on. There’s an example from every CSI school of something that makes their program unique, something that isn’t measured by state assessments, and something that keeps families and students coming back. And we are interested in exploring how we consider those unique aspects when evaluating school quality.
The CSI team has been engaging with thought partners across the state and nation as we consider components of CARS 3.0. Additionally, and importantly, we have been engaging our schools in this process as well. We have been collecting survey data from school stakeholders, and in the coming months we will host focus groups with our school stakeholders.
We are excited to embark on this next iteration of annual accountability and are excited to be doing so in collaboration with our schools and partners. Everyone at CSI from our schools to our board is fully committed to accountability and we intend to develop more robust, sophisticated, and nuanced accountability tools that will help us to more meaningfully evaluate school performance.