Thursday, March 27, 2014

How we assess student learning

The Newton Board of Education honored a group of Enthusiastic Readers this week at a public ceremony held in the high school library. A student from each grade level was selected by the faculty and administration to represent his or her peers, all of whom had been recognized in their schools earlier this month. Here is a list of the honorees:

Kindergarten - Jalexa Garcia 
1st Grade - Piper Carr
2nd Grade - Nicole Morehouse
3rd Grade - Rachel Borusiewicz
4th Grade - Anthony Carlson
5th Grade - Xavier Izquierdo
6th Grade - Julian Sibblies and Rebekah Reese
7th Grade - Bridget Guziewicz
8th Grade - Justin Colucci
9th Grade - Leah Cotton
10th Grade - Sharone Brown
11th Grade - Krys LaFlamme
12th Grade - Michael Luckert

Beaming parents and proud educators gathered to hear teachers and librarians relate vivid anecdotes detailing their students' special qualities as readers. They made connections between reading and writing, noting that many of their students have identified specific literary skills demonstrated by the authors they've read. High school librarian Wendy Whipple cited research on the significant effects of reading for pleasure on academic success. It was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our children's successes.

In closing remarks, I mentioned it would be difficult to communicate to the outside public, who had neither sat in these students' classrooms nor witnessed this testimonial, about the skills these students had acquired. How would I convey their passion for learning? Their ability to make connections between different story lines? Their skill in relating to what a character experiences?  I have found over the years that we as educators have downplayed the validity of standardized tests as a public accountability measure, but have yet as a profession to promote an acceptable alternative.

A related event this week involved the participation by each of our schools in field testing the new PARCC tests (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) that will officially debut in the spring of 2015. The promise of PARCC is to provide an assessment system with more authentic tasks that are directly linked to rigorous, commonly accepted standards in language arts literacy and mathematics. We will see whether this national initiative improves our opinions on standardized tests.

In the meantime, if we want to better understand whether our students are learning what they should learn, we will have to judge it the old fashioned but still useful way: by observing an academic competition, reading a student publication, attending a science fair or mock trial, visiting an art exhibit, experiencing a concert or play, watching an athletic contest, celebrating a college graduation, or offering congratulations on a job offer.

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