Evidences and the School Librarian

So you need some hard evidence that what a school librarian does grows students. I get it, we are data driven as an educational society.

My largest fear when data is requested is to show the librarian link to student learning, there is at least an implication that the learning impact is reflected in test scores.

I want to step back for a minute and consider the job of a school librarian. What school librarians do is highly individualized. We work closely with students, teachers, and parents to make sure everyone is being helped in a way that is most beneficial to each. We have been perfecting individualized learning for ages. Needs at my school are vastly different from the needs at the school just a few miles away. Even in one school, one year the librarian may work more closely with students. Another year, the teachers may get the lions share of the librarian’s time.

So, here are a few ways that librarian impact on student learning can be measured:

  • Long range plans including scope and sequence for student learning.
  • Logs on collaboration, co-teaching, and activities supportive of stakeholders.
  • Samples of rubrics, teacher lead lessons, and student developed projects.
  • Assessments – self, pre/post, formative, performance tasks that are librarian created and/or professional assessments like the ones on TRAILS.
  • Reflection/surveys on learning opportunities by librarian, staff, and students.
  • Monthly and/or annual reports – documenting statistics about activities, programs, initiatives, classes, parent meetings, trainings, circulation, collection changes, and patrons.
  • Evaluation of time spent doing administrative tasks without a direct link to learning outcomes but which must happen to create an environment for learning.

Those seem pretty straight forward. But there are some issues I see in utilizing them. Librarians on various schedules may see students on a limited basis, time allotted to work with teachers may be nonexistent, and other duties assigned to librarians involve large amounts of time away from the library, or inadequate time to work with students.  These are just some of the factors that can change the role of the librarian in his/her school. I can’t stress enough how different the role of each school librarian based on setting, schedule, and/or administration.

I know without doubt that what I do as a school librarian impacts student growth and learning. I push and prod students into the outer regions of their comfort zones. I provide a safe place for them to formulate plans, experiment, and reflect before starting the process again. I know they are learning and growing. In addition to my personal experience, we have multiple impact studies that show the impact qualified school librarians have on the schools in which they serve.

Efforts to try to quantify and measure the direct impact that school librarians have on student learning/growth are appreciated. I was a math teacher before becoming a librarian. Numbers rule! I truly understand how and why we use data. AND I like to think any field can be leveled in such a way that everyone could meet the same specific goals. However, I’m not sure that there is a truly valuable and accurate way to measure the benefit a librarian has on student learning.

What librarians do at each school level (elementary, middle, and high) is very different — different enough they may be barely recognizable as the same profession. In addition, the socioeconomic status of the school necessitates a variance in needs and procedures. Differing student backgrounds may mean that leading students may range from apparently simple to complex activities. A librarian in an affluent school may be able to work with students on developing a TED-type symposium where the students choose topics, conduct research, and present their topics to an online audience. A librarian in a school with high poverty levels may work diligently to help children see reading as a valuable and exciting experience. She/he may work with students to develop greater stamina by expanding daily reading time or increasing comprehension or how to choose a book they might enjoy. We can measure that time reading has increased, ask questions about what they read, or ask students to describe what types of materials they want to read,  but what is the direct correlation to learning?

The collaborative and supportive aspects of a school librarian’s job extend to all the school community. If I help a teacher find digital mathematical manipulatives, how did that effort impact growth and learning? If I help a student find a book to guide them through a personal struggle, did that impact growth? If I provide a space for creatively or reflection, how are the outcomes measured?

I can give you facts and figures like how many books a class checked out and how many weeks books were kept. I can produce student generated book reviews and recommendations, anecdotal logs of student conversations, lists of times and ways I collaborated with teachers. I can highlight the number of books I recommended to students based on their interests, the number of teachers who I helped find the perfect read aloud, or the number of parents who left with an armload of books after the home literacy meeting I led. I know these are impacting learning, but how do we adequately measure that impact?

Thanks to the following extraordinary librarians for their discussion and guidance on this topic.

I’d love to hear from you! What do you use as evidences of student growth? What is different about your role as school librarian from those in surrounding schools? How are you impacting student learning that can’t be measured?