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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Hotter Than You Think: The Brave New World of Student Assessment

Edutopia's first Schools That Work installment about comprehensive assessment focuses on a New York City school that has changed the game of student assessment. Think: more rigorous, more relevant, more fun.

While that may not sound terribly sexy, don't be fooled. These techniques -- and what New York's Manhattan-based School of the Future has achieved with them -- have the potential to change the way we understand and learn from our successes and failures.

How?

Because when you break down the learning process to its fundamentals, there is one question every teacher or administrator must ask herself sooner or later: did the kids get it? Did they understand and retain the knowledge? Not just in some big, high stakes, summative way, but every day, every week, every month. Why embark down the bumpy road of educating young people if we are not keen to pause -? and pause often ?- to see if the learning process is working?

The teachers, administrators, and students of New York City's School of the Future make it their business to answer those questions at a granular level just about every day. Early and often, they deploy a strategy of "authentic" assessment (using everything from end-of-class exit notes, to large-scale presentations and exhibitions, to more traditional tests and exams) to measure progress. And they really lean into that authentic part.

School of the Future staff ensure that both the knowledge they are assessing and their techniques for measuring it are relevant to the student's lives, and reflective of the real-world challenges they they will face when their formal educations are behind them. And while authentic assessment requires some extra effort in prep time, the end result actually speeds up the learning process. As one teacher told us, "Now when I go home at the end of the day, I am much less tired than I used to be."

I have visited my share of impressive schools and this one ranks among the best. I hope the video below (and the other videos in our Schools That Work package) paint an inspiring picture. More importantly, I hope the tips, free resources, and community connections will prompt you to try similar innovations at your school. As our story suggests, your students will salute you.

-- David Markus, Editorial Director, Edutopia

Now check out our latest installment of Schools That Work: Comprehensive Assessment, A New York City Success Story.

Comments (14)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

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Ms. Hyatt's picture
Ms. Hyatt
10th Grade English Teacher

I really think that this blog had a lot of useful insights I could share with my school. We have very low reading levels and high drop out rates. I do feel that our assessments need to be more authentic across the board and show the connections to the students' lives. However, I am a first year teacher and feel that my ideas are not as valued as highly as others because I am new to the profession. How do you think would be a good idea to go about suggesting this to my school?

Stacy's picture
Stacy
6th Grade Teacher from CT

I also enjoyed the blog. I too, teach in a school with very low reading levels. As a sixth grade teacher, we don't necessarily see drop outs. I agree with what was said about having authentic assessments, however, I also think it needs to be on the state tests as well. I have watched my students taking their state test each year and realize that they don't always know what the story is about because they don't have the background knowledge. The tests, somehow, need to be relevant to the lives of everyone. Is it actually possible to do on a state test?

Ms. Hyatt, I personally, think you might want to start just in your own classroom. Make the articles and texts they read relevant to their own lives. As an example, my students are studying Ancient Egypt and we were talking about the different kingdoms and the power struggle during each one. We have been doing a lot of comparing and contrasting with the issues today's Egypt is facing, by watching news clips and reading articles. Another great way to see if they have mastered a concept is through the exit passes mentioned above. Before a student leaves the class, they need to answer a question related to the lesson from the day. This will tell you how the lesson went and if they understood it.

April Luna's picture

I feel that this blog is very relevant to the issues that are going on in my school right now. We are pushing our students to do well on all the standardized tests that are being thrown at them yet as teachers we aren't looking at the big picture. At our school we aren't connecting the assessments to their real life experiences at all. We are afraid to assess these students with "authentic" strategies because we don't want to take their focus off of the important state tests. This blog opened my eyes to assessment and helped me reflect on the type of assessments I am doing in my class and how those "authentic" assessments are actually very powerful tools to keep student achievement up.

Amelia Curry's picture
Amelia Curry
2nd Grade Teacher from MS

This article is very relevant to the school I am working at now. I teach second grade at a school that is considered failing for the second year in a row, according to accountability labels. One of the things to that our school has decided to do to improve test scores is using comprehensive assessments. Our school uses a firm called the Kirkland Group, which creates a common comprehensive assessment for each nine weeks. The exams are based on the pacing guides for each subject. The exams are very rigorous and are created in a format that mimics the MCT2 tests. A QDI is calculated based on the scores of the assessments to see if progress is actually being made. During the first nine weeks, all grades had a QDI of no higher than 45. You need 100 or higher to pass. Did students show progress? Yes. All grades had a QDI of 100 or more, with some being higher than 200 with the results of the second nine weeks exams. We feel that if our students are able to successfully complete these exams that mimic the MCT2, the test will not be a shock to them in May. The students will already be in accordance with answering rigorous questions.

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