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Measures of A World Class System


I recently read Dr. Robert Wachter’s opinion piece in the New York Times, “How Measurement Fails Doctors and Teachers,” which makes a strong case that two of our most important professions—health care and education—have been overexposed to an assortment of metrics and measurements. Dr. Wachter, a professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California‒San Francisco, argues that while measurement can be effective in driving improvements and innovation, “we need more targeted measures, ones that have been vetted to ensure that they really matter.” He adds that we may be “hitting the targets, but missing the point.”

During my tenure as a principal and superintendent, we collected many measures—from student achievement and growth, student, staff and community perceptions, to initiative implementation data to district finances—all to inform our journey of school improvement and impact on ensuring all students were college and career ready. When I was a principal, our school even used metrics to identify the time of day that some students performed the best in reading classes as well as data around blocked vs. extended time classes and adjusted the school’s schedule accordingly. We also benchmarked data against some of the highest-performing schools and districts across the country. The school and I were always hungry for more data.

Data can be a powerful tool to support school improvement, but Dr. Wachter’s article made me reflect on what measures really matter in education and are we collecting too much data. As a consultant that has worked with schools all over the country and in my last position with a not for profit I have had the opportunity to lead a collaborative of nearly 100 innovative districts in Ohio focused on high-impact strategies that empower teachers, develop leaders, and improve school systems.

Based on these experiences, here are the five measures I’ve seen make a difference in advancing educational equity and opportunity for all students. 

3rd Grade Reading Proficiency

There may be no more important focus for a school leader than ensuring that all students, particularly students living in poverty, are proficient in reading by the end of third grade. According to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (2014), 80 percent of children in low-income families are below proficiency in reading. Students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers (Hernandez, 2012), which can have long-term consequences in terms of career prospects, earning potential, and overall quality of life.

Percentage of Students who complete Algebra I by 8th Grade

There is a great deal of debate about whether every student is ready to take Algebra by the 8th grade. Instead, the focus should be on how we can provide a rigorous math curriculum for all students, from grades K-6 which includes the opportunity and support necessary to successfully complete Algebra by the 8th grade. Algebra I is frequently referred to as a “gateway” course. Students not completing algebra by 8th grade, will most likely not have an opportunity to complete geometry, algebra 2, trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus in high school. Research by Hull and Klepfer (2012) revealed that the higher the math course a student takes in high school, the greater the probability that they will persist in college, no matter their socioeconomic status or prior academic achievement. By helping students complete Algebra by the 8th grade, we can prepare them to succeed in high school, college, and beyond.

Percentage of Students Participating in Extracurricular Activities

The National Federation of State High School Associations cites a wealth of research showing that student participation in extra-curricular activities leads to better educational outcomes, healthier behaviors, and enhanced student engagement and sense of belonging. While millions of kids across the U.S. are involved in interscholastic activities each year, there is a huge gap in participation between students from high-income and low-income families (Putnam, 2015). How can we ensure more students from all backgrounds are involved at school? Some districts survey their students every year who were not participating in a sport, club, or other activity to find out their interests and explore ways the district may expand its offerings to get more kids engaged. The bottom line is that providing opportunities for our students to participate in school activities is important, especially when we know that students who participate in these activities tend to do better in school, get better jobs, and gain benefits that can last a lifetime.

Level of Hope and Engagement

In a recent Gallup survey (2016) of the nation’s K–12 school district superintendents, nearly nine in 10 superintendents said student hope and engagement were important in assessing the effectiveness of public schools in their community. Research suggests student hope is actually a stronger predictor of college enrollment and persistence than several academic measures, including ACT, SAT, or high school GPA (Lopez, 2013). Hope is more than wishful thinking. Hope is positively related to emotional engagement with school, which in turn is related to academic performance. According to a report by Gallup (2014), schools in the top quartile of school-wide student engagement were 50 percent more likely to perform above average in reading achievement than schools in the bottom quartile of school-wide engagement. The great news is that any student—no matter their family income, race, or ethnicity—can be hopeful and emotionally engaged in their learning.

A College Readiness Metric (AP Completion, ACT Scores or Dual Enrollment) 

There are several measures that matter for college readiness, including student participation in AP/IB courses, college credits earned through dual enrollment, and ACT score. Dodd, Godin, & Hargrove (2007) discovered that students who successfully participated in one or more AP tests and courses had higher college GPAs, earned more credit hours, and were more likely to graduate in four years or fewer. Even the students who take an AP class and do not pass the AP Exam may still be more likely to graduate from college in 5 years or less compared to students who don’t take an AP course. Another study found that underrepresented and low-income students who took AP courses were nearly 30 percent more likely to graduate college within five years than their peers (Dougherty, Jian, & Mellor, 2006). We know when students enter college having completed rigorous coursework and/or have already earned college credit hours in high school, they are more likely to graduate than students who have not done either.

Many school districts will report their average ACT score, but it is more important to set a standard that all students can achieve, and provide support to students who need it along the way. Establishing a benchmark of 22 or higher on the ACT would ensure that all students are taking the rigorous coursework necessary to be college and career ready.


There’s no doubt that establishing metrics are critical to inform our school improvement journey. By identifying measures to monitor your building’s or district’s impact on student college and career readiness, school leaders can make the necessary adjustments to policy and practice to ensure all students’ success. Dr. Wachter’s New York Times piece challenged my thinking about what measures really matter for school improvement. I want to hear from you. What measures matter in your district, and why?  

About the Author Bobby Moore has spent more than 25 years in education as a teacher, principal and superintendent. As President & CEO of EPIC Impact Education Group, he partners with schools and professional associations across the country to implement high-growth strategies, professional learning for leaders, strategies for creating high performing and positive cultures, as well as keynoting at conferences and school districts. Please contact him at Dr.BobbyMooreed@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @DrBobbyMoore.

This blog was authored by me as an employee of Battelle for Kids.
© 2017, Battelle for Kids. All Rights Reserved


Dodd, B., Godin, D., & Hargrove, L. (2007). Advanced placement: Report to the nation 2007. College Board. Retrieved from http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/about/news_info/ap/2007/2007_ap-report-nation.pdf.

Dougherty, C., Shuling, J., & Mellor, L. (2006). The relationship between advanced placement and college graduation. National Center for Educational Accountability. Retrieved from http://hub.mspnet.org/index.cfm/12852

Early reading proficiency in the United States: A KIDS COUNT data snapshot. (2014). The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.aecf.org/resources/early-reading-proficiency-in-the-united-states/ 

Hernandez, D. (2012). Double jeopardy: How third-grade reading skills and poverty influence high school graduation. The Annie E. Casey Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/AECF-DoubleJeopardy-2012-Full.pdf 

Hodges, T. (2016). Student hope, engagement as important as graduation rates. Gallup, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/195248/student-hope-engagement-important-graduation-rates.aspx 

Hull, J. & Klepfer, K. (2012). High school rigor and good advice: Setting up students to succeed. The Center for Public Education. Retrieved from http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Staffingstudents/High-school-rigor-and-good-advice-Setting-up-students-to-succeed/High-school-rigor-and-good-advice-Setting-up-students-to-succeed-Full-Report.pdf 

Lopex, S. (2013). Making hope happen: Create the future you want for yourself and others. Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, NY. 

Putnam, R. (2015). Our kids: The American dream in crisis. Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, NY.

State of America’s schools: The path to winning again in education. (2014). Gallup, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/services/178769/state-america-schools-report.aspx.

The case for high school activities. (n.d.). National Federation of State High School Associations. Retrieved from https://www.nfhs.org/articles/the-case-for-high-school-activities/#chapter1

Bobby Moore