Lakeville's business approach to evaluating school programs

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 5, 2014 - 2:00 PM

The district is using an ‘academic return-on-investment’ system to look at whether programs are worth the money.

Lakeville schools are taking a business concept from the boardroom to the classroom, hoping to evaluate which academic programs are working and which ones aren’t worth it.

This summer the district started using an academic return-on-investment (A-ROI) philosophy to look at one program, with plans to do the same with others in the coming year.

Other districts, such as West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan and South St. Paul, have also used A-ROI. In fact, that’s how Lakeville became familiar with the concept, said Superintendent Lisa Snyder.

Officials admit that schools aren’t exactly businesses, and that measuring outcomes can mean grappling with some things that are tough to measure.

One attribute — and educational buzzword — that may be assessed is grit, or how determined a student is to do something, despite challenges. Others include students’ engagement, resiliency and curiosity.

How to assess such fuzzy concepts?

There are ways to do it, including surveys, focus groups, observations and interviews, officials insist. Parents, teachers and students will all be involved.

“We feel like we need to take a ‘whole child’ approach,” Snyder said.

‘ROI’

In business, return on investment means how much a company is getting back for what it has paid in, financially and otherwise.

In education, it involves determining a program’s goals, measuring them using data and determining whether students in the program are meeting them, said Jason Molesky, the district’s program evaluation director.

A program’s cost is also weighed in, he said.

The system “is exciting because it’s the first time that we can really evaluate each program for what its merit is,” said Roz Peterson, school board chairwoman.

A-ROI is still brand new in Lakeville, having been discussed at a recent school board work session. A formal presentation to the board is scheduled this week.

In recent years, Lakeville has experimented with many innovative programs, from Impact Academy, in which students learn at their own pace, to Link 12, an online school.

This system will “just strengthen our improvement efforts and provide another means for talking about how we’re doing,” Molesky said.

While Lakeville was already results-oriented, the new system “is a really good fit for Lakeville to bring us to the next level,” Snyder said.

So many variables

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