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Nebraska Agency to Track Effects of 'Whole Child' Factors on Achievement

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A new interlocal agency will track indicators of student health, fitness, and academic achievement to help Nebraska schools identify effective "whole child" strategies and secure grant money to implement evidence-based strategies in their classrooms.

The Nebraska Whole Child Project, conceived by the Nebraska Association of School Boards, hopes to "expand the notion of a school's success beyond test scores," the Lincoln Journal-Star reported. So far, 61 school districts and regional cooperatives have agreed to share information and strategies through the agency, which will have its own independent board. From the Journal-Star:

"They've enlisted the help of Dr. Bob Rauner, director of the Partnership for a Healthy Nebraska, who has spent the past five years crunching numbers at Lincoln Public Schools that show a direct correlation between fitness and student achievement. ... at both LPS and Kearney, work that showed students who pass fitness tests are more than two times more likely to pass statewide reading and math tests—results that hold true across socio-economic lines.

That's created some policy changes at LPS, which now requires all elementary schools to have recess and an activity break; and through work of advocates like LPS curriculum specialist Marybell Avery, schools have gotten federal grants to beef up their wellness programs."

Nebraska's effort fits into a larger national picture of schools taking a closer look at student factors other than standardized test scores. Recognizing the connections between health and success in school, the Healthy School Campaign has pushed states and districts to integrate health and wellness indicators into their data systems. From the campaign's website:

"In recent years, education policy has included a great deal of focus on data and metrics used to evaluate schools and districts. With few exceptions, these metrics have focused on specific academic skills without tracking key factors—such as health and wellness—that are known to have an impact on learning.

Incorporating metrics for health and wellness into data tracking systems, research and school report cards would provide educators, policy makers and the public with a more complete understanding of how student health and wellness are shaping learning and academic outcomes."

Illinois has already adopted the recommendations. The state's school accountability system now includes staff survey data about school climate and engagement, and principals' explanations of after-school programs, health and wellness initiatives, and community partnerships.

The push comes at a time of greater focus on "whole child" factors. ASCD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated the coordinated school health model, a tool in awarding grants and structuring school wellness initiatives, to include a greater emphasis on collaboration between teachers and student support staff, social-emotional factors, and school climate issues.

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