Teaching the Whole Girl: How Are We Doing?

If you haven’t read the recent news article describing how the Lower School began the year exploring and declaring their hopes and intentions, please do! The Lower School’s work on SEL curriculum brings yet another new level of intentionality to something that has always been a part of Burke’s.
A focus on the “whole girl” and our conviction that our work with girls not be limited to the traditional three Rs have acquired fresh relevance in the past several years, with the creation of our 21st-Century Learning Model and the “outcome statements” that describe our vision of the “21st-century Burke’s girl.” This focus is central to our current Strategic Plan, which puts self-exploration and social-emotional curriculum at the forefront in Strategic Goal #1.
 
But how can we be confident that we are really accomplishing this goal? We use the ERB/CTP4 standardized tests and other academic measures to help us monitor how well we are preparing girls academically and adjust our program accordingly. But what about the “non-cognitives”?  How do we know if our students are really learning these skills that have crystallized out of a careful analysis of our various statements, from the mission commitments to the 21st-century learning model to the outcome statements?
  • Empathy
  • Creativity
  • Responsibility/Ethics
  • Resilience/Resourcefulness
  • Curiosity/Open-mindedness
  • Confidence/Self-awareness
While faculty began last year to explore that question in the context of their work with students, Trustee Julia Wong (‘83) led the 21st-Century Skills Subcommittee of the 2013-2014 Board Strategic Initiatives Committee in researching approaches to assessing students’ growth in these areas at an institutional level. The Committee (Board members Nancy Mayeda and Annie Robinson Woods, and faculty and staff members Susan Deemer, Susan Faust, Alice Moore and Rebekah Wolman) discovered a tool designed exactly for this purpose.
 
Over the past several years, member schools of INDEX, an independent-school data-sharing collaborative, have joined forces with the Educational Testing Service to develop the Mission Skills Assessment to measure students' proficiency and growth in six non-cognitive skill areas: teamwork, creativity, ethics, resilience, curiosity and time management.
 
The Committee researched the tool and, satisfied that the six skills it assesses match our own list closely enough that it could be a valuable tool for Burke’s, recommended to Michele Williams that the academic administration look into its potential to help us assess our work with students. The result: a decision to administer the MSA the first week of December to our 6th-8th graders. The computer-based assessment, with Lisa Spengler as Project Manager, is expected to take one class period, and teachers at each grade level have volunteered class time for this purpose. If a student is unable to complete the assessment within the class period, she will be allowed to finish during advisory or conference time.
 
In the next few weeks, Lisa Spengler will be meeting by grade with students in grades 6-8 to explain the purpose of the MSA, why looking more closely at students’ development in these areas is important to our school, and the administration process — and most importantly, the fact that it is not an individual assessment tool.  We will not receive results for individual students, only results by grade-level.
 
In the spring, the school will receive a report of Burke’s students’ performance on the MSA in the context of findings from the tests’ administration in all 90 participating schools. We will consider this year’s results as a baseline; just as we look at results of standardized academic testing to help identify academic program areas we want to strengthen, we will ask ourselves whether the report points to other aspects of our students’ development that would benefit from more attention.
 
Meanwhile, we are establishing a baseline of all the ways we currently address these skills in our curriculum, in advisory and in other aspects of school life so we have a starting point for discussion of the results when we get them.  
 
We are excited not only to have discovered a way to “benchmark” our work with girls on these non-academic skills, but also to become part of a network of schools engaged in the same conversation, and to share more information in subsequent writing about our process and the insights we gain from this work.
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Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.

Burke’s

An independent K–8 school for girls
7070 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
Phone: 415.751.0177 Fax: 415.666.0535
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