The Tri-State Consortium is an alliance of public school districts committed to systems thinking and collaborative inquiry as pathways toward continuous improvement. Working together as colleagues and critical friends, we apply the standards of the Tri-State model to benchmark member districts' progress in advancing teaching and learning. Consortium members support each other through external peer review of programs and practices, study groups, conferences and topic-based seminars designed to deepen professional learning. (Revised 2019)
In 1992, superintendents from a small number of school districts in the New York City metropolitan region began meeting periodically to consider issues related to the systemic performance of their districts.
The districts represented in this informal group serve student populations that typically show strong achievement results on state and national normed-and criterion-referenced tests. With more than 95 percent of their graduates college-bound, they meet and even comfortably exceed the traditional benchmarks of excellence for public schools.
Given their quality and their location, these districts attract and hold faculty who bring to their work substantial experience and strong academic backgrounds. By almost any commonly cited measure, these school districts are among the most successful in the region and, perhaps, in the nation.
Nevertheless, these superintendents shared the belief that the commonly accepted standards of district excellence did not present a sufficiently rigorous challenge to students and faculty in their districts. Moreover, they concluded that the traditional methods for examining instructional practices that were being used in the early 1990’s by regional accrediting agencies were not designed to encourage the close examination of student performance in their districts. As a result, accreditation reports were providing these districts with little information about how to grow and sustain improvement in student learning.
In the spring of 1994 the group decided to form a consortium committed to bringing more rigorous and systematic attention to student performance standards within the member districts. Further study created an interest in the possibility of an assessment model based on benchmarking techniques in the private sector that might be adapted for use in educational institutions. The members agreed that it would be useful to employ the services of a corporate consultant. Proposals were solicited from several firms engaged in benchmarking activities, and a contract was awarded to the IBM K-12 Consulting Group to assist in this effort.
The move to establish state and national standards as a step toward improving public school student achievement has been in full swing across the country for several decades. Common standards have been created for content areas, and new standardized tests have been developed. Beginning with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, the federal government has weighed in with requirements to assess students, teachers, schools, districts and states annually.
To complement the required tests for students, some states and districts are experimenting with other forms of assessment, including portfolios, exhibitions, demonstrations, and performance-based instruments that challenge students’ abilities to analyze and synthesize information, draw conclusions, and communicate their ideas effectively.
As a result of these developments, most districts have an abundance of student achievement and student performance data. At the same time, they find themselves unclear about how to identify and gather data related to performance, and are confronted with demands from their states and communities to effect improvement in student achievement on highly public test measures. The question with which many districts grapple is: “How can student performance data be captured and used to improve teaching and learning?”
In response to this question, Tri-State Consortium members have identified a number of common questions:
Is the district assessing the student outcomes it values?
What areas of student performance are assessed and how are assessment data used?
How can the assessment process be improved?
What role do students play in assessing their learning?
How are student performance data collected, stored, analyzed and disseminated to faculty and staff?
Are multiple measures used to gauge student performance, and if so, what are they?
How are student performance data used to inform curriculum and instruction?
How are assessment results communicated to, and feedback solicited from, the broader school community?
Consortium member districts have made a commitment to pursue these and other related questions as “critical friends.” Members have collaboratively developed, implemented, and refined an assessment model that helps them identify how a district’s resources, processes, and planning can be aligned effectively to enhance student performance. The model encompasses vision and mission, staff development, supervision and evaluation, instructional practice, curriculum, parent and community relations, and equitable access to programs. Underlying the model is the belief that high-performing districts can and must improve continuously.
A draft of the original model was completed in May 1995. At that time, the number of participating districts increased from the original twelve to twenty drawn from suburban New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey.
That fall, a Consortium conference drew together 170 teachers, administrators, parents, and board members to review the model, discuss existing assessment practices, and explore ways in which the new organization could serve as a vehicle for enhancing student performance. In 1995-96 pilot visits were conducted in three member districts; the following year an additional five pilot visits took place. Deriving from the experience of these first visits, teachers and administrators from member districts took part in a series of three Best Practices Conferences designed as forums for sharing what had been learned through the visit process.
To facilitate this work and enhance the organization’s capacity to train those involved in the work—both as visiting team members and as members of the districts’ receiving teams—and to expand opportunities for communication and sharing among members, the Consortium recruited and appointed an Executive Director in 1999 and a Director of Training in 2000.
The Consortium Today
In 2020, membership in the Consortium has increased to 48 districts. To date, the Consortium has conducted more than 200 district visits. It currently conducts, on average, thirteen district visits each year. Just as the model encourages member districts to become “learning organizations,” the Consortium itself is committed to operating as a learning organization. Over the years,the Consortium has commissioned two large evaluation studies of the impact of the organization on its member districts. Both studies revealed high levels of satisfaction and identified areas in which the Consortium could broaden and/or improve its services to member districts.The vast majority of these suggestions have been implemented.