substance abuse. He emphasized that if a major purpose of having an indicator system is to influence learning outcomes, then measures of the experiences that help to produce the outcomes are as important as the outcomes themselves.
Eugene García identified as the primary purpose of an indicator system informing the American public about the educational well-being of all and revealing the ways learning is associated with other indices of well-being (such as health, economic status, etc.). Such information could be used to evaluate current policy and guide new policies and, by identifying gaps and trends, highlight domains that may need specific policy and practice attention. It could also be used for international comparisons. García highlighted the importance of making sure that learning outcome measures are fleshed out with rich qualitative and contextual information. Such information may be difficult and costly to obtain, he acknowledged, but in his view it would significantly enhance understanding of the nation’s educational well being. He also suggested that longitudinal measures are more informative than cross-sectional assessments alone. Longitudinal assessment allows for more robust analysis of individual and group progress, or lack thereof, over a specified period, he observed.30
“We are much better at static measures than at ones likely to stimulate positive change,” suggested Patricia Graham. The easiest approach is to focus on educational institutions and their role in helping students learn, using measures of academic achievement. Assessments of academic achievement provide useful information, in her view, but she also asked “how raising test scores fits into the broader purposes of schooling,” for which the metrics are less obvious. Expectations of U.S. schools have changed markedly in the past century, she noted, and promoting academic achievement for all is actually “a new assignment for them.” A century ago, public schools were expected primarily to assimilate immigrant children into American society. In the ensuing decades other goals were added: fostering social adjustment and creativity; desegregating public institutions; and creating special programs for the poor, the disabled, the gifted, and English language learners, for example. It was only toward the end of the 20th century that the primary emphasis became high achievement for all students.
The available metrics have been very useful, Graham noted, in revealing obstacles to meeting that ambitious goal—achievement gaps and inequities in the education system. But achievement tests, in her view, should not be the sole, or even the principal indicators of learning. “We need more and better indicators of intellectual initiative, cooperative learning with others, and the ability to generate and assess new ideas and processes,” she suggested. Also important, she added, are indicators of what students have learned regarding “their role in this democracy of majority rule and minority rights, and their capacity to respect others, play fair, and to learn the traditional adult virtues of hard work, accuracy, and responsibility.” These attributes are much broader than simply getting and keeping a job, which is viewed as a key goal of schooling, but are nevertheless consistent with that desirable outcome, she noted. “We need metrics that reflect the education we
30In a discussion of longitudinal indicators, a participant emphasized that they are most suitable for tracking such benchmarks as graduation rates, where there is a stark difference between achieving it and not achieving it. When tracking the percentages of students who meet particular standards, for example, this person argued, the result should be treated as a continuous measure, not as a longitudinal benchmark.