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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

In Gauging Learning: A New Type of Performance-Based Curriculum

A school tackles a variety of assessments to supplement traditional tests.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team

"We ask, 'What do students need to learn, what strengths do they bring to the task, and how can we best teach them?'" says Frederika French, principal of Morristown Elementary School in Vermont.

For many years, the pre-K through sixth-grade school has been piloting a wide variety of assessments to supplement traditional tests.

To help gauge a student's readiness to learn, the school uses portfolios containing samples and revisions of a student's work that reflect progress toward criteria in each content area. The goals for student work are clear, and the standards against which their progress is measured are modeled by benchmarks -- examples of work ranging in quality from poor to excellent.

The school has also adopted the New Standards Assessments in mathematics, a rigorous performance assessment based on real tasks and projects. Fourth-grade students, for example, are asked to show how they could set up an aquarium with a budget of fifty dollars, explaining their choices of equipment, fish, and food.

In order to implement this or any other performance-based assessment successfully, Morristown has learned that it is critical to help students understand the standards they are expected to meet. Since audiences of classmates, parents, teachers, and other community members often help evaluate performances, they too have to understand the standards. One of the ways Morristown has communicated the importance and usefulness of standards is to enlist community members to share the criteria for excellence in their own fields.

The school's leadership role in the assessment field continues to evolve. "In order to help a child move from one point to another, the teacher needs to continually assess where the student is in relationship to the standard or desired result," French says.

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