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Tom Wilson

Practice-Based Inquiry®


Brings Solutions to Education Reform Dilemmas

Goes Beyond the Numbers Game

The longer we use test scores as the sole measure to hold schools accountable for their performance, the more we learn that this is a bad idea and terrible policy. To generate and sustain better school education, we need a better base for generating useful findings about how well schools are working so that students learn what matters.

The answer is not to abandon testing. The answer is to supplement testing with methodologies that are built on new, up-to-date assumptions about how to assess human action in complex institutions.

The central rationale for test scores is that they are the "only valid" measure of schools we have. This assertion then requires us to shape what we measure so that tests can be used. This is upside down from how science works to generate objective data.

Good science starts the other way around. You first decide what is most important to learn about and then figure out how to measure it.

Practice-Based Inquiry begins by asking the central questions: How well are schools providing good teaching and student learning? How well do students actually learn at this school? How well do teachers actually teach?

Catalpa has designed Practice-Based Inquiry as the conceptual basis for a methodology to assess practice that transforms traditional school visits to meet modern standards of rigor.

Practice-Based Inquiry was not made up by modern day researchers or policy makers. It was built from a 150–year-old tradition of school visits in which school practitioners and national legislators observe actual practice and assess how well teaching and learning are going. It is built upon a set of practice-based assumptions about how to ensure accurate findings about complex behavior.

Practice-Based Inquiry is based on a six-years-field-study of how school visits are conducted by British school inspectors in English schools and by American accreditation agencies in thousands of American schools. In addition, Catalpa has spent fifteen years testing, refining and establishing school visit systems at the district and state levels.

Practice-Based Inquiry is not a simple, finished project. Rather, it has the complexity and imperfections like any scientific methodology. It provides a tested and worthwhile place to move beyond the current numbers game that currently dominates American school assessment.

More detailed descriptions of PBI are presented in these site sections:

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