A consultant hired by the Upper Arlington Board of Education has completed the second of four benchmarking studies the board has chosen to establish guidelines for changes to its educational services.

A consultant hired by the Upper Arlington Board of Education has completed the second of four benchmarking studies the board has chosen to establish guidelines for changes to its educational services.

Assistant superintendent Debora Binkley said the four areas selected are Partnership for 21st Century Skills (an externally certified curriculum), service learning, extracurricular activities and academics generally.

The benchmarking report for extracurricular activities is expected within a month and the report for academics before the June 30 end of the fiscal year.

Binkley said the district had initially examined only demographically similar districts in Ohio and nationally, but after seeing the first report prepared by the Hanover Research Council in Washington, D.C., decided to look at all districts and make demographic comparisons later.

"It was important that we find out who the top people are, whether or not they are demographically exactly like us, and whether we are like any of them," Binkley said. "For instance, there may be a very small district that's doing wonderful things, or a very large district, but if I only look at districts with 5,000 to 7,000 students I won't have looked at either of those."

The Hanover report on 21st century learning found that Upper Arlington was in the "advanced stages" of the curriculum compared to state and national peers. Among the few changes recommended by the report was to reconsider measurement tools used for the program.

"Commonly used performance measures do not truly evaluate students' 21st century skills Upper Arlington might consider adopting one of the assessments recommended such as the College Work and Readiness Assessment," the report stated.

The service learning report similarly found that Upper Arlington is advanced in comparison to other districts. Service learning, Binkley said, is an explicit use of community service to provide a mechanism for applying academic curriculum.

An example was a Barrington Elementary School unit on cancer research, a part of which was recognized for community service at Upper Arlington's annual State of the City event.

"If you're doing a canned food drive, you might do that canned food drive in conjunction with a unit on nutrition, or a unit on math, or a unit on poverty," Binkley said. "Whatever it is, it connects back to the curriculum. There are two components, the service piece, but also the learning and reflecting on it."

The Hanover report recommended employing "coaches" and managers for service learning, expanding the emphasis on service learning in high level policies such as the district mission statement, creating incentives for students and teachers to participate, and greater use of collaborative databases such as "wikis" and involving youth and community organizations in the service and volunteering efforts.

Binkley said it is difficult to evaluate the balance between quantitative data and qualitative data.

"The things we are looking at are things you don't always see statistically," Binkley said. "For instance 21st Century skills, districts are not looking at how many skills have been incorporated and how the student is doing on that. There are only a couple of assessments out there that talk about the skills needed in the 21st Century and those are fairly new. There's no hard data.

"It's not quantitative data that is easily accessed to determine who the exemplars are and how we fit in," she said. "There's some quantitative data, but it's probably more qualitative data, and that's what we're asking Hanover to do, unearth that qualitative data.

"There are all kinds of courses we could take about when qualitative and when quantitative, to determine what and when and why.

"I think the answer to the type of data that you use depends on the question you want to research," Binkley said. "Once you've developed your question, that will help determine what data you are looking at.

"Some people might judge academics purely by standardized test scores, and whether a district is accomplished by its Ohio Achievement Assessment or Ohio Graduation Test. We think it's more than that."