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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Showing What They Know: Innovative Program Produces High Achievers

A series of portfolio presentations illustrate student achievement and comprehension.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team

Even though many of the students at Fenway Middle College High School in Boston, Massachusetts, were not academically successful before coming to the school, they all must meet rigorous requirements to graduate. The school's small size -- 250 ninth- through twelfth-grade students -- enables the staff to give students the personal attention they need to succeed. This individualized environment is key to Fenway's assessment of student learning. Several times before graduating, each student demonstrates, before a panel of judges, that he or she has mastered required knowledge and skills in a variety of subject areas.

One such public demonstration is Junior Review, an assessment of each student's readiness to move on to senior year. Juniors spend the second half of the school year assembling a portfolio of their accomplishments in core academic subjects, as well as their transcripts and college application materials.

The students "apply" to be seniors by presenting their work to a panel of business partners, parents, and university and school faculty. While reviewing their portfolio with the panel, students also defend why they are ready to become seniors and explain their plans for their last year of high school, including where they are going to apply for college.

Junior Review also readies students for the demands of their senior year, during which students assemble a series of portfolios in place of traditional exams in order to graduate. Seniors meet with graduation committees five times during the year for a full review of the portfolios, as well as to present, discuss, and defend their work in each subject area. These presentations are part of Senior Institute, in which students spend a year in more independent study to get ready for college. The seniors receive a copy of the scoring tool judges will use before each examination, so they know what criteria they are expected to meet.

Fenway's graduation requirements have led to changes in assessment throughout the school. Students in the lower grades are now also required to give public demonstrations of their knowledge in order to better prepare for the years ahead. For example, freshman and sophomore math students defend a concept of their choosing at a math exhibition twice each year. They teach the concept to a class of their peers and are evaluated by a panel of faculty members. In addition, all students develop a science exhibition and defend it three times before judges at a yearly science fair. Fenway's system of asking students to show and defend what they have learned has had positive results -- 90 percent of the school's graduates go on to two- and four-year colleges.

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