Use the "Close the Gap" framework

Here's a four-part framework for closing the gap between the rhetoric of the mission and the reality of the classroom. This article addresses part 2.

  1. Define your mission.
  2. Define mission achievement.
  3. Determine the current level of mission achievement.
  4. Define and implement.

Your goal is to run fast. You want to achieve your goal. Any questions?

I have two:

  1. How far? 1 kilometer? 10 kilometers? 100 kilometers?
  2. How fast? 5 minutes per kilometer? 4 minutes per kilometer? 3 minutes per kilometer?

Get answers to these two questions, and you’ll have a clearer understanding of what you must do to achieve your goal. In other words, defining achievement helps you know what to do.

Make sure your definition of achievement is specific, measurable, attainable, and relevant. For example,

  • Instead of “run fast,” run 400 meters in 51.2 seconds.
  • Instead of “play the trumpet well,” earn a rating of 2 at the instrumental solo and ensemble festival.
  • Instead of “read and write well,” earn a rating of 3 on the AP test for literature and composition.
  • Instead of “get good grades,” earn a 3.3 GPA.

Defining achievement is useful for you—and for your organization. For example, your school has a mission: Equipping students to impact the world for Christ. You want to achieve it. Any questions?

I have two:

  1. For a student to be equipped to impact the world for Christ, what must a student understand, be able to do, and value? Must your students be able to understand and use a biblical perspective of course content? Must your students be able to communicate through writing, speaking, reading, listening, graphs and charts, and the arts?
  2. For a student to be equipped, at what level must a student understand, do, and value? Below standard? At standard? Above standard?

Get answers to these two questions, and you’ll have a clearer understanding of what you must do to achieve your school’s mission. In other words, to achieve your school’s mission, start by defining mission achievement.

How? By developing student objectives (also known as overarching curriculum standards, schoolwide learning outcomes, expected student outcomes, school-wide goals, and expected student learning results).

Student objectives define what a teacher should help a student achieve for the student to achieve the mission, and they should be written in student-friendly language. An example of a student objective is, “Value learning.” (see Sample Student Objectives).

To develop student objectives, take the following four steps:

  1. Get answers to eight questions regarding process.
  2. Determine the criteria you will use to develop your student objectives.
  3. Develop your student objectives.
  4. Determine the level of student learning needed for mission achievement.

Step 1: Get answers to eight questions regarding process.

  1. Who initiates the development of student objectives? The administration.
  2. Aren’t student objectives the province of the board? Yes and no. Student objectives define the mission in terms of measurable student learning and resemble “ends” statements, which are the province of the board. However, student objectives are also overarching curriculum standards. Given this, and that curriculum standards are the province of the administration, and that curriculum training and experience are needed to develop effective student objectives, I recommend the board rely on the experts it has hired to carry out the mission—that is, the administration.
  3. What is the board’s role in the development and approval of the student objectives? Policy. Rather than playing a direct, hands-on role, I recommend that the board develop a policy for student objectives and hold the administration accountable to this policy.
  4. Who should the administration involve in the development of student objectives? Students, parents, staff, and board members. This is what the Western Association of Schools and Colleges suggests.
  5. What process can the administration use to develop student objectives? Roundtable discussion. This is an effective way for students, parents, staff, and board members to collaborate on developing student objectives.
  6. Is it mandatory that we develop our own distinct set of student objectives? No, nor is it necessarily wise to do so. Using an established set of student objectives from another school is an example of relying on an outside resource.
  7. Doesn’t using another school’s student objectives diminish our distinctiveness? No, I don’t think so, anymore than using denominational creeds, hymns, and procedures diminishes your church’s distinctiveness.
  8. If we start with another school’s student objectives, do we need to modify the process? A little bit. If you do this, remember to verify that this set meets your board’s policy and train community members in the nature and function of student objectives.

Sample Student Objectives

Responsible Learners who…

  1. Understand Bible stories, the plan of salvation, and a Christian worldview
  2. Understand subject content and skills
  3. Integrate content and skills from different subjects
  4. Value learning
  5. Use appropriate learning strategies

Discerning Thinkers who…

  1. Use a Biblical perspective
  2. Solve problems
  3. Organize and use information to support conclusions
  4. Make creative products and presentations

Productive Collaborators who…

  1. Respect themselves and others as being created in God's image
  2. Work with others

Effective Communicators who…

  1. Communicate through writing, speaking, reading, listening, graphs and charts, and the arts
  2. Integrate different forms of communication

Step 2: Determine the criteria you will use to develop your student objectives. For example, consider teh following set of criteria. Student objectives:

  1. Define the mission in terms of measurable student learning. They should be written in terms of what students will do (not what teachers will do) and be measurable using classroom assessments. If you use policy governance, be sure your student objectives are consistent with board ends statements.
  2. Are Christ-centered, promoting the development and application of a Biblical worldview. Your student objectives should be true to Christian faith commitments; true to the creation-fall-redemption-restoration motif; and true to the cultural mandate (Genesis 1:26-28), the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), loving God and neighbor (Matthew 22:37-39), and being part of the Church (Ephesians 4:16).
  3. Are based on sound, current research and practice. Your student objectives should be based on a combination of a Christian philosophy of education and current research and practice.
  4. Are for all students. Your student objectives should define what you want all of your students to achieve.
  5. Address the whole person. As a package, your student objectives should address the spiritual, intellectual, aesthetic, social, emotional, physical, and moral.
  6. Are interdisciplinary—not subject-specific. Subject area standards identify what a student must achieve in a given subject in order to achieve the student objectives.
  7. Are attainable. Your students must be able to meet your student objectives. Don’t list objectives you or your students cannot achieve.

Student Objectives are part of the MOSAIC curriculum framework

The MOSAIC curriculum framework aligns the mission, curriculum, and student learning.

Mission: A school mission statement is a 15- to 25- word statement that identifies the school, its purpose, and possibly its constituency.

Ojectives (also known as expected student outcomes, schoolwide goals, and expected student learning results): Student objectives define your school mission in terms of measurable student learning.

Standards define what students must achieve within a given subject in order to achieve the schoolwide objectives.

Assessments are ways students show their achievement of the standards.

Instructional strategies are ways teachers prepare students for assessments.

Children: In class, a teacher helps children prepare for assessments so that they can demonstrate achievement of the standards, and consequently of the student objectives and mission.

Step 3: Develop your student objectives. Use your answers to the eight questions and your criteria to develop a set of student objectives. I recommend that you limit the number of items to 10-15. The sample set of student objectives  has 5 categories and a total of 15 items.

Step 4: Define the level of student learning needed for mission achievement. While student objectives define what the mission means in terms of student learning, schools also need to define the level of student learning needed to achieve the mission. To do this, develop schools can develop a SMART goal. A SMART goal is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Here’s an example: Not later than Thursday, June 11, 2009, each student objective will have an achievement rating of 90% of high school students at or above standard, scores being taken from a complete set of end-of-course department assessments.

How will you apply what you have just read?

Using student objectives has helped us define mission achievement and make progress toward mission achievement. Would using assessments help your school? If so, what step will you take this week?

Here are 4 options:

  1. Talk for 15 minutes with a colleague about this article.
  2. Talk with the school administration about how student objectives can help your school achieve its mission.
  3. Collect sample student objectives. Do a web search on “ESLRs.”
  4. Develop a set of criteria for developing your student objectives or use the set of criteria listed in this article to evaluate your existing student objectives.

What would happen if…?

  1. Your school defined the mission in terms of measurable student learning by developing student objectives (also known as expected student outcomes, school-wide goals, and expected student learning results)?
  2. Your board members asked your administrators to report for 15 minutes at each board meeting on student objective achievement?
  3. Your administrators used 15 minutes at each faculty meeting to analyze student objective achievement?
  4. Your teachers assessed student achievement of the student objectives?
  5. Your students assessed their learning in terms of the student objectives and used their assessment results to develop SMART goals?
  6. Your parents helped their children achieve their SMART goals?
  7. All your stakeholders focused on a SMART goal related to increasing achievement of student objectives?
    If some or all of this happened, would you be closer to proving the value of Christian education? Would you be closing the gap between the rhetoric of the mission and the reality of the classroom?

From the January 15, 2006, entry on Michael Essenburg’s blog

Would using student objectives help you achieve your mission?

Find out by responding “yes” or “no” to five statements:

  1. Yes/No: I want to close the gap between our mission and the reality of our classrooms.
  2. Yes/No: I want to know how well we’re achieving our mission.
  3. Yes/No: I want to connect mission, student learning, curriculum, and school improvement planning.
  4. Yes/No: I want our parents to better understand and support our mission.
  5. Yes/No: I want our students to catch the vision for Christian education.

If you answered “yes” to any of the five statements above, read on. At Christian Academy in Japan, we answered “yes” to all five, and using student objectives helps us with all five areas. Here’s how:

(1) Using student objectives helps close the gap between the mission and the reality of the classrooms. A mission statement defines overall purpose, but it does not define what a student must know, be able to do, and value. This results in a gap between the rhetoric of the mission statement and what teachers and students are accountable to achieve in the reality of the classroom.

Student objectives define the mission in terms of specific, measurable student learning. Consequently, they help close the gap between the mission and the classroom. For example, our mission is to equip students to impact the world for Christ, and one of our student objectives is that students will use a biblical perspective. Consequently, in all subjects at all grade levels, teachers are accountable to teach a biblical perspective and assess student use of a biblical perspective.

(2) Using student objectives helps us know how well we’re achieving our mission. To know how well we’re achieving our mission, we need to define what mission achievement means in terms of measurable student learning—which is what student objectives do. We use student objectives to determine academic standards, and we then assess students on the standards.

The result? Assessment data provides information on the standards and, consequently, the student objectives and mission.

We’ve taken this a step further. Our mission and student objectives define what must be achieved. To define the amount of learning that must be achieved, we have developed a goal: Each student objective will have an achievement rating of 90% of high school students at or above standard, scores being taken from a complete set of end-of-course department assessments.

Knowing how much our students need to learn helps us know how we’re doing—like points on a scoreboard help a basketball coach and team know how they’re doing. By looking at student objective achievement data, we learn the “score.” That helps us make effective decisions to reach our SMART goal.

Is the process of developing student objectives helpful?

Here's what one Christian school principal thinks:

The very process of working through developing the outcomes (or student objectives) has helped us better define who we are and what we are about. It has helped us see the relevance of our daily activities (the stuff of lesson planning) to the overall goals that we desire to achieve. It is helping to provide a grid by which we judge the relevance and priority of what we do on a daily basis.

Outcomes have helped us project an image of the student we would like to produce so that teachers know and agree upon the picture they are trying to paint. This has already been useful in making curricular and programmatic decisions…

In general, this process has helped us understand the relationship between our Ends, Core Values, Imperatives, and Strategic Plan with our delivered curriculum. It has helped us develop a framework for working in unison toward the overarching goals we really believe in but were in reality just hopeful that we met. Now we will be able to intentionally target specific aspects of these goals at each level along the way. No more wishful thinking! We will know what we are doing and why and how it all fits together! — Erin Wilcox, Middle School Principal at Colorado Springs Christian Schools, Colorado Springs, Colorado

(3) Using student objectives helps us connect mission, student learning, curriculum, and school improvement planning. To connect these things, we need to define the mission in terms of student learning—which is what student objectives do. Next, we need to develop a curriculum that is designed to help students achieve our student objectives, which in turn clarifies what our teachers must teach and assess. Finally, we can use student objective assessment data as the basis of our school improvement planning, which targets increased student objective achievement and, consequently, increased mission achievement.

(4) Using student objectives has helped our parents better understand and support our mission. Mission statements are global. Mission statements do not give parents a specific handle on what their children will learn or on how that learning is connected to the mission. Student objectives define the mission in terms of student learning. We have successfully used our student objectives to help our parents have a clearer picture of how our school will help their children. Each year, for example, parents collaborate with their secondary student to develop a growth plan that targets increased achievement of the student objectives.

(5) Using student objectives helps our students catch our vision for Christian education. A key reason our students did not sufficiently catch the vision of Christian education is because it was not defined in terms of what they had to learn. When we define the vision of Christian education in terms of what our students learn, they increasingly catch the vision. In a recent school publication, our high school student council president is quoted as saying, “CAJ is focused on helping kids achieve the student objectives.” When revising our student objectives, our first graders voted 20 to 2 to retain the category “caretakers” instead of changing to “stewards.”

Using student objectives can help you in a variety of ways. What one thing can you do to move toward develop student objectives for your school?

Michael Essenburg, MA, serves as coach, consultant, and catalyst at Christian Academy in Japan. He is available on a time-permitting basis to consult with ACSI international/MK schools. To learn more, please visit his Web site at http://closethegapnow.org

Michael B. Essenburg © 2006 • Close the Gap • Web: http://closethegapnow.org

Get answers to 4 questions

Christian schools work hard to achieve their missions. Four key questions to consider regarding mission achievement are:

  1. What is the mission?
  2. What is the definition of mission achievement?
  3. To what extent is your school achieving its mission?
  4. How will you close the gap between current and desired achievement?

Answers to these four questions are powerful tools in helping your school achieve the mission.

Just imagine the impact of having 100% of your school's staff understand the:

  1. Mission: To equip students to impact the world for Christ.
  2. Definition of mission achievement: 90% of students at or above standard on all student objectives.
  3. Current level of achievement on all student objectives—for example, 69% of students at/above standard on applying a biblical perspective of course content.
  4. Strategic steps they need to take to close the gap between current and targeted achievement levels—for example, giving students six assessments per year that require them to connect course content, life experience, and a biblical perspective.

Need a place to start? Define mission achievement in terms of student objectives.

From the April 28, 2006, entry on Michael Essenburg’s blog: http://michaelessenburg.blogspot.com.

You have no rights to post comments