For many years, the one academic discipline in the Catholic schools that did not have a recognized means to measure the standing of their students was in the area of Theology. For much of the 1980’s and 1990’s the academic progress of our students in Theology was a speculative guess at best. In 1997, the United States Catholic Conference published guidelines for schools and religious education in the General Directory for Catechesis. In this document, the Conference points out that “it is necessary…that religious instruction in schools appear as scholastic disciplines with the same systemic demands and the same rigor as other disciplines…[and have] the same seriousness and the same depth with which other disciplines present their knowledge” (p.65).
In this context, for us at Saint Thomas Aquinas the words of the educational guru hold true, “What you measure you value…what you value you measure.” In order to have the same demands and rigor as our other disciplines, it only stands to reason that you must measure your Theology curriculum as you would reading, math, science and the social sciences. Many Catholic high schools around the country say they are doing a good job of teaching the Catholic Faith, but never measure their student’s actual knowledge of their faith. For many there is an over reliance on anecdote and other measures that do not stand up to the credibility of an assessment with clear, verifiable and consistent benchmarks based on the results of literally thousands of young people in schools and religious education programs from around the country.
If the Theology curriculum is to be truly valued, you need to measure with a credible and reliable instrument. Unlike some Catholic high schools, at Saint Thomas Aquinas, we know exactly how we are doing in teaching the Faith. In 2002, we began testing our incoming freshman using the Assessment of Catechesis and Religious Education (ACRE) tool developed by the National Catholic Educational Association (with technical assistance from the CETE at the University of Kansas). In light of the fact that we often times have up to twenty-six different eighth grade programs represented in a typical freshman class, our intent was to fully understand where our students stood in the area of religious knowledge in order to accurately adapt our curriculum based on what they knew.
Beginning with the Class of 2006, we began to test our seniors in order to better understand where they stood in their knowledge of their faith after four years of Theology classroom work here at Saint Thomas Aquinas. Without giving you too much educational jargon, the ACRE measures the proficiency of the students in their understanding of the four Pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
As with our success in the “secular subjects” our high rate of proficiency is primarily due to the level of attention and demands our Theology faculty place on the academic rigor of their individual subjects, their own knowledge of our Faith and their ability to teach it to our young people. They (and we) expect that our young people know the fourth R in a Catholic school curriculum, Religion, as well as Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic.
We know beyond a shadow of a doubt how our young people are progressing and achieving in all areas of our curriculum. Some can say they know, but they simply do not have the facts to back up their claims. At Saint Thomas Aquinas High School we know because we measure what we value and what we value we measure, especially our Catholic Faith.