Professor’s work focuses on improving U.S. schools via European methods

by The College of Education   /   Jan 23, 2014

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) highlighted some of the research conducted by College of Education at Illinois faculty member Katherine Ryan, in regard to school evaluation models that are being instituted in Western Europe.Professor Katherine Ryan

Ryan, along with Illinois doctoral candidates Tysza Gandha and Jeehae Ahn, wrote School Self-evaluation and Inspection for Improving U.S. Schools?, which examines the school-by-school accountability method that is gaining popularity in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Essentially, the model consists of a two-part system that begins with a school self-evaluation, followed by an outside inspection (SSE/I for short). Some consider this model to be an innovative way to break American schools away from the strict test-score-based evaluations that can negatively affect entire school districts, if the scores do not meet statewide standards.

“SSE/I is a complex policy instrument with mixed consequences and many research questions still to be answered,” according to Ryan and her colleagues in an interview with the NEPC. They also caution that “accountability models from other countries cannot be naively imported to the U.S., given the vital distinctions in sociopolitical contexts.”

In an interview with the College, Ryan said the American education system is far different from the European one, yet educators and others should not be immune to change.

“A look at some of the purposes or principles behind SSE/I—especially its emphasis on quality improvement—can inform efforts to redesign and improve the U.S. accountability model,” she said. “Twenty-nine countries use some kind of school-centered accountability effort.”

Many of the current evaluation methods are on a district, region, or statewide basis, centered around the test scores of the entire group. This makes it difficult to gauge the improvement and progress of individual schools, teachers, and students. By making single schools more accountable for themselves, they are given expanded range to pinpoint the areas that need to improve, focusing solely on the issues within their own jurisdiction.

“Lower-income schools are more likely to be struggling schools and are thus the primary target of accountability requirements and sanctions,” said Ryan. “UK-style accountability recognizes that these schools also need the greatest support and attempt to balance the accountability and improvement purposes of school evaluation. Some kind of external review focused on how schools might improve would certainly be different than [the] test-based approach we have now.”