It is common for Christian schools to have dual missions: to develop academic excellence in their students AND develop Christlike character in their students. As the mission of Christian schools typically involves BOTH elements, it would be expected that Christian schools are evaluating their ability to deliver both aspects of that mission. Typically, they are not (Erdvig, 2020). There is evidence that Christian schools evaluate their effectiveness of instruction (academic mission), but there is not as much evidence that Christian schools are measuring themselves in the development of Christlike character in their students (spiritual mission). But here is the important thing: Educators measure what is important for students to learn and for teachers to teach. We strongly believe in the aspect of our mission to develop Christlike character in our students, yet we rarely assess that we are doing this effectively. Because spiritual formation is a primary focus of Christian Schools, there SHOULD be evidence of effective assessment of the spiritual formation of students, as well as evidence of the school’s evaluation of its spiritual programs.
My experience as a Head of School and consultant for Christian schools leads me to believe that most schools lack the resources to evaluate the effectiveness of meeting the school’s spiritual mission, and sometimes do not even have the desire to do this complicated work. I talk to many Christian school leaders, and some question if this kind of assessment can even be done. Others say that spiritual growth is the work of the Holy Spirit, not of people, so there is little that we can do. I believe these concerns are legitimate. We should be asking serious questions about the assessment of spiritual formation. To further complicate matters, there are few resources available to Christian schools in this area (though help is rapidly becoming more available). Schools also lack definitive best practices for evaluating how they are successful in helping students meet their expected spiritual outcomes. This requires schools to make evaluations of their spiritual formation efforts based on anecdotal evidence that does not align with best practices.
How do we KNOW that students are becoming more like Jesus? What REAL data can we point to that tells us this is true?
Herein lies the problem. Christian schools desire to measure the effectiveness of their current practices and to improve their practices to better support the effective spiritual formation of students but do not have effective tools to employ in this measurement.
This problem is important. When students are enrolled in Christian schools, it is not a guarantee that spiritual formation will occur. Some studies suggest that more than half of the students enrolled in Christian schools do not reflect the expected spiritual outcomes of the school (Schadt, 2009). Because schools do not have access to best practices in meeting their expected spiritual outcomes in students, their ability to inculcate these expected spiritual outcomes is thwarted. A significant percent of students graduate from these schools without reaching these expected spiritual outcomes (Erdvig, 2020). This means that many Christian schools are not meeting their spiritual mission.
Assessing the effectiveness of the Christian school ministry in meeting its spiritual mission has a biblical basis. Scripture tells us that God not only sees what is visible on the outside, but also what is inside us (New International Bible, 1978/2011, Psalm 139:23-24, Hebrews 4:12). Scripture also tells us that God is a righteous judge who makes assessments that result in His conclusions about our actions and beliefs. These conclusions reflect his righteous character (Holy Bible, New International Version, 1978/2011, Psalm 9:8, 1 Cor. 4:5, 1 Peter 1:17, Revelation 20:12-13). Assessment that is in alignment with Biblical truth will be bathed in prayer and will include a determined approach to keep God’s purposes at the center of the effort. Biblically-aligned assessment will also focus on comparing the spiritual development of students at the school with a bigger picture of what God is doing at the school, as well as in the lives of the students. It is worth doing, and it is important.
Erdvig, R. C. S. (2020). Beyond biblical worldview integration: Immersing you and your students in a biblical worldview. Summit Ministries.
New International Bible. (2011). Zondervan. (Original work published 1978).
Schadt, J. (2009). Living as a Christian in a postmodern world. Christian School Education, 12(1), 15-16.
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