Friday, November 20, 2009

CEO, Richard Tagle on Measuring Success

I am often asked how an organization like Higher Achievement measures success. Do we measure it through individual student progress or do we measure it through school performance? District-wide changes? Do we measure our impact on teaching and learning in schools? Do we assess how we improve community culture and supports for young people?

I would like to put to rest one thing: we did, currently do, and always will measure our success through individual scholar outcomes. It is what we are passionate about, it is our niche, and it is what makes us unique. Are you familiar with the Hedgehog Principle? That is why Higher Achievement constantly collects data about individual scholars: their demographics, their grades, test scores, attitudes, behaviors, skills. That is why we have small mentoring groups, summer class sizes. That is why we have competitions that enable individual scholars to shine. That is why we have an 8:1 ratio for homework help time. We provide individual attention.

Of course we analyze data both in aggregated and disaggregated fashion. But we need to differentiate our core strategy from our mechanism of analysis. We analyze group data to determine trends and center-specific and affiliate specific issues. But we will always measure scholar outcomes individually – did a scholar improve his or her grades? Test score? Did they build this or that skill? Is the scholar improving their academic behavior and attitude? Is this scholar doing better academically because of Higher Achievement?

Does our focus on scholar outcomes prevent us from measuring other ways we impact schools and communities? No, not at all.

When I meet with people not familiar with Higher Achievement, I highlight 3 things that make us different from other out of school time programs:
1. First, we are year-round. We offer both summer and after school academies. Very few programs have a year-round approach. Even fewer are year-round approaches that are academic-centric.
2. Second, we have a high school placement component. This niche allows us to concentrate on successfully transitioning youth in middle school, and placing them in high schools that get them on track to college.
3. Third, the combination of our culture and curriculum is a powerful force. Marrying a culture of excellence and high expectations with a social-justice themed curriculum is genius.

Add these three things together and Higher Achievement has found its unique place under the sun. The beauty of these elements is that these are both scholar-centric and allow Higher Achievement to have an impact at various levels: at the family level (we increase the level of parent involvement and engagement), at the school level (our feeder-based recruitment allows us to see if we are able to influence and impact school culture and performance), and at the systems level (our partnerships extend our reach and voice to promote a culture of excellence to everyone).

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