« Nickel and Dimed | Main | Evaluating Collectively-Created Information »

Trick Question

A trick question
Head for the Edge, February 2007

At last spring’s interviews for our new high school library media specialist, the stumper question was:

How will you demonstrate that the library media program is having a positive impact on student achievement in the school?

How did that nasty little question get in there with “Tell us a little about yourself” and “Describe a successful lesson you’ve taught”? Now those questions most of us could answer with one frontal lobe tied behind our cerebellums.

Given the increased emphasis on accountability and data-driven practices, it’s a question all of us, librarians and technologists alike, need to be ready to answer - even if we are not looking for a new job or don’t want to be in the position of needing to look for one.

While I would never be quick enough to have said this without knowing the question was coming, I believe the best response to the question would be another question: “How does your school measure student achievement now?”

If the answer was simply, “Our school measures student achievement by standardized or state test scores,” I would then reply, “There is an empirical way of determining whether the library program is having an impact on such scores, but I don’t think you’d really want to run such a study. Here’s why:

  • Are you willing to have a significant portion of your students (and teachers) go without library services and resources as part of a control group?
  • Are you willing to wait 3-4 years for reliable longitudinal data?
  • Are you willing to measure only those students who are here their entire educational careers?
  • Are you willing to change nothing else in the school to eliminate all other factors that might influence test scores?
  • Will the groups we analyze be large enough to be considered statistically significant?
  • Are you willing to provide the statistical and research expertise needed to make the study valid?”

No school I know of has the will to run such as study.

If the interviewer’s answer to the question “How does your school measure student achievement?” was more complex (We look at a variety of variables that indicate learning and student success such as the successful completion of rigorous course work, authentically-assessed mastery of problem-solving skills, reports of post-secondary success by graduates, successful participation in extra-curricular activities, high graduation rates, and alumni and employer satisfaction surveys…”), then my response could not be so flip. (See “Schools Are More than the Sum of their Scores,” Head for the Edge, April/May 2004) http://www.doug-johnson.com/dougwri/schools-are-more-than-the-sum-of-their-scores.html

How can we as a profession hold ourselves accountable in an education environment in which an empirical means to demonstrate our value is impractical if not impossible?

Joyce Valenza’s exemplary “End of Year” report <http://mciu.org/~spjvweb/annualreport06.pdf> is one example of how to demonstrate a program’s (and the program director’s) impact on student and school success. I am willing to bet real money that Joyce’s position will never be cut so long as she is in it.

Joyce is probably among the half dozen smartest and hardest working people in all library-land.  Nobody should be expected to create a report as good as Joyce’s. But we can all borrow some really good ideas from her report. It’s organized by Highlights, Curriculum, Class Visits and Usage Patterns, About the Collection, About Service, Feedback, Staff and Hours, Additional Activities and The Community and Beyond. She also includes information about her own professional growth and professional accomplishments.

Read just an except from the section on Curriculum:

We continued to develop mini-lessons and scaffolding to address specific learning needs. Lessons included work on synthesis of content and effective note taking. I worked closely with our seniors, introducing them to a wide scope of resources for their individual projects and assessing all of their preliminary works cited lists. I worked behind the scenes with nearly all the seniors as research consultant and as their last-minute technical advisor prior to their presentations…

I helped to plan two inservices on reading strategies. Following the February inservice, I guided several teachers in creating or finding organizers and strategies to work on improving content area reading.

I especially like her idea of exit interviews with seniors. (OK, making videos is rather over-achieving, but regular interviews or a survey is do-able.) Create your own mini-OHIO study <www.oelma.org/studentlearning>.

How will you demonstrate that the library media program is having a positive impact on student achievement in the school?

Think about it. I bet you’ll be asked in the near future. How will you answer? It really isn’t a trick question.


Most of my Head for the Edge columns, updated and edited, can be found in my latest book. Buy it and I might be able to afford a nicer nursing home one day. Thank you.



Posted on Sunday, June 17, 2007 at 04:04PM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | CommentsPost a Comment

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>