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redborder1000x15.gif (673 bytes) A Design Assessment Scale for Elementary Schools
C. Kenneth Tanner                                                             section 1 of 4

A Design Assessment Scale for Elementary Schools (DASE) is under construction at the University of Georgia's School Design and Planning Laboratory. Its purpose is to assist educators and architects in planning and designing developmentally appropriate learning environments for elementary schools (pk -5). We are also currently working on scales for middle schools (grades 6-8) and high schools. The DASE is intended to measure various aspects of design practices presently existing in schoolhouses and outdoor learning areas. This report includes the first step in the instrument's validation process and the initial reliability coefficients. Two questions are under study: Does the DASE include the most significant and valid aspects of design for elementary schools? Will it consistently measure these important design patterns?

" ... if scientific proof could be found regarding the design patterns' influence on these areas, then recommendations on physical design of schools could be made with certainty."

Mary Burke SchoolIntroduction:
In May of 1997, the School Design and Planning Laboratory was created to work on the problem of making physical learning environments more "learner-friendly." Specific attention was to be focused on the use of technology in conducting research, providing service, and delivering instruction in this rapidly growing academic area. The clients of the SDPL were defined as educators and citizens involved in designing, planning, and constructing schools that serve the pre-kindergarten through the grade 12 population.

One of the on-going studies in the Laboratory deals with the difficult tasks of defining and measuring the degree of functionality and adequacy of school design characteristics or patterns. We assumed that once these were identified and properly validated, an association, and perhaps causality, might be established between school design patterns and student learning. We further assumed that these weighted design patterns might be compared to such measurable characteristics as student behavior, self-concept, and attitudes - all of which have been determined to affect student learning. We reasoned that if scientific proof could be found regarding the design patterns' influence on these areas, then recommendations on physical design of schools could be made with certainty - [The goal? "Learner-friendly schools"].

Behavior of students may be measured in terms of social conduct in the schools. Student behavior, given the violence on schools grounds, is tied to issues of safety and security as well as discipline. Frequently, attention is given to disruptive or abnormal behavior. Fighting among students, possession of illegal objects and drugs, and clashes with authority figures are examples. These negative aspects of student behavior are being measured by frequency counts. But, major aspects of positive student behavior such as participation in school and community activities also need to be included in assessments of student behavior. Future projects will include the development instruments that give attention to positive behavior as well as the more common emphasis on negative behavior. It is logical to assume that educators need to pay more attention to rewarding "good" student behavior.

Behavior and achievement (academic and nonacademic) influence a student's self-concept. Research literature is replete with findings on these relationships, much of which has been influenced by the popular psychologist, Carl R. Rogers. Attitudes influence learning; furthermore self-concept and attitude have been found to be related.

But, can we say, with certainty, that if the school's physical environment influences attitude, it must also affect self-concept and behavior? Attitude, behavior, and self-concept are related. Works by prominent researchers such as Skinner (environment as a behavior modifier) and Lewin (behavior is a function of the field that exists at the time the behavior occurs) document evidence of these relationships. I offer the proposition that these are all influenced by school design patterns but can not prove it scientifically. Design assessment scales for schools may evolve to be the instruments that will help us say, with certainty, that school design influences student learning. It may even give us an index to actually say "how much". At least, when we combine the a scale such as DASE, with proven measures of behavior, attitude, self concept, and social and economic indicators, a stronger and more accurate index for predicting student achievement and other defined outcomes is highly likely.

The Instrument's Development:
Before validity can be demonstrated, the DASE must first yield consistent and reliable measurements. The questions addressed in this study are 1- What are some important, measurable, designs to include in the DASE. 2- Will these measurable patterns provide the consistency and reliability needed to compare the instrument's scores with scores representing defined student outcomes.

The first step was to review research and the "best practices" in school design. A basic assumption for the field of psychology is that young students' interactions with their physical settings may become their primary medium for learning. Physical arrangements of classroom space and class size communicate expectations for behavior reinforced by institutional policy decisions.

Since the developmental process of children can be influenced by characteristics of the physical setting, there are important fundamentals to be considered when designing and planning schools. We believe the 51 items that are distributed among six sections (found in the current version) cover many of the conceptual design aspects of an elementary school. We welcome arguments to include additional items and reasons to delete some that are included in this version.

Guiding propositions found as 'best practices' and those supported by research are outlined within each section of the instruments' components. The attached bibliography provides all the sources used in developing the DASE.

Components of the DASE:
The degrees of functionality, safety, adequacy, quality, and presence are measured with a 10-point Likert Scale, where 10 = 100%, 1 = 10%, and 'not present or very weak' = no response.


www.designshare.com, May, 1999

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