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What is MESH and What Might it Mean for School Accountability?

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By Angel Gonzalez

In my life before Idaho I helped to lead an evaluation of a school-based youth program in Chicago that focused on some of that city’s most at-risk students. The program’s counselors taught a curriculum that focused on teaching values and skills that would help students stay out of trouble and excel in school. The evaluation team found that the program worked—students in it were less likely to be involved in criminal activity and did much better in school.

In Idaho, I think about how youth programs like this could benefit young people in the Gem State, and how good ideas can spread across new areas. All of us who work in Idaho education want our kids to have values and positive social habits that would further enable them to think critically, positively manage their emotions, and deal with the challenges they face.

Schools have an important role to play in this effort. During the K-12 school years, students learn some really formidable lessons about how to work with people, how to deal with tasks that they might hate to do, and how to rebound after experiencing failure. Teachers play an important role in instilling these values in students. Many of us can point to those one or two teachers who pushed us to do better, even if we couldn’t seem to figure things out the first time.

The title of the blog highlights MESH, which stands for “Mindsets, Essential Skills, and Habits.” MESH is an important education buzzword that replaces a series of other important buzzwords—grit, non-cognitive learning, socio-emotional learning, social-cognitive skills—all of which grapple with the skills and outlooks that students can be taught to better deal with their life challenges. Research shows that MESH can be directly linked to academic achievement and positive life outcomes. However, we have not actively sought to measure how well schools teach these formative skills, largely because we link student and school accountability to how students perform on English and Math tests. But, why can’t we have both?

The short answer is that we do not have the tools to effectively measure MESH at a large scale just yet. But, there are a couple of brave districts in California piloting tools to measure these skills, even including the results in their school accountability model. For those interested, the survey tools used in California will soon be released with normative data from 500,000 students. In the coming years, these skills will be a topic of conversation as states now have more freedom to create state accountability models under the recently passed federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Surely, state leaders in Idaho will come across parts of MESH as they work to craft a new accountability system and let’s hope that they don’t just pass by it.

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