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A Richer and Deeper View of Student Success

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “Who’s In the Driver’s Seat?” by Steven Levy in Educational Leadership, November 2015 (Vol. 73, #3, p. 62-67),; Levy can be reached at
In this Educational Leadership article, author/consultant Steven Levy makes the case for taking data use beyond test scores and getting students to own the process, collecting and analyzing pertinent information and setting their own goals. “Because data analysis is so effective in addressing the mastery of discrete skills,” says Levy, “the process tends to see everything as a discrete skill. It assumes that learning is a linear process, skill by skill, bit by bit, starting in kindergarten at A and ending with a PhD at Z… How can we invite data into schools without letting data usurp the fullness of our humanity?”
The question is whether the non-cognitive domain be measured – perseverance, beautiful work, human emotions. Levy believes so, and gives a small example of how a second-grade class in Boston designed a project to convince people not to be afraid of snakes. To measure their outcomes, students designed a “fear scale” with these ratings:
1. I love snakes SO much, if a snake crawled into my bed I’d kiss it.
2. I would let a snake crawl on me, but not for long.
3. I am scared of snakes, but won’t faint if I see one.
4. Every time I see a snake I panic. I hate snakes so much I would move to Jupiter. I would rather eat a dragon than look at a snake.
Respondents were asked, if they rated themselves 3 or 4, to explain their fear of snakes.
Levy says that Expeditionary Learning, where he works, embraces “an expanded view of student success,” focusing on three dimensions of achievement:
• Mastery of knowledge and skills – Students’ progress in this traditional realm is measured by solving problems, thinking critically, applying learning in new situations, and communicating clearly about complex ideas. Students are also in the driver’s seat when it comes to data – for example, keeping records of the kinds of math errors they’re making (computational, procedural, or conceptual misunderstandings), analyzing patterns, and setting improvement goals. “Assessment isn’t something done ‘to’ students,” says Levy, “but something they use to improve and demonstrate their own performance.”
• Character and engagement – This includes performance character (academic mindsets and habits of scholarship, including perseverance and organization) and relational character (how students work with others, including respect and collaboration). Students keep track of their own progress on the specific character goals and get feedback from peers and teachers.
• High-quality work – The criterion here is transferring traditional knowledge and skills to performances in authentic contexts. Students in Expeditionary Learning schools must present their work to diverse audiences and communicate their thinking through writing and speaking. The criteria for success are:
- Complexity – This includes higher-order thinking, grasping big concepts across academic disciplines, seeing different perspectives, and being able to transfer concepts to new situations and understand sophisticated texts.
- Craftsmanship – Work is done with care and precision and attention to accuracy and detail; there’s beauty in conception and execution.
- Authenticity – The work really matters to students, includes original thinking, and uses formats, standards, and sometimes audiences from outside the school.
Educators in Expeditionary Learning schools use these lenses to examine student work, praise what’s good, and improve what falls below standards.

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