by Erika Nielsen Andrew
Chief Academic Officer, Teaching Channel
How do we know when our students are ready to meet the challenges they will face when they leave us? At Envision schools we have developed a system that encompasses work from all four years of the high school experience, which includes Project Based Learning.
Our assessment system begins with a graduate profile: What do we want our students to know and be able to do when they leave us? We want our students to be competent at engaging in inquiry, analysis, research, and creative expression. We want them to be able to communicate powerfully, collaborate productively, think critically, and manage projects effectively. We also define the content we want them to know, and we expect them to be able to to reflect as they learn.
Since this is complex set of skills, we have designed challenging projects so students can demonstrate what they can do. We use rubrics that embody the skills we assess. We can either embed the assessment into the project, or have a separate performance task that can follow the project, to see what was learned, or precede the project, to build important skills.
For example, in an algebra class, students demonstrate their mastery of algebraic functions when they act as architects who must design a theater, given constraints such as available land, cost, comfort and security. In an English class, students demonstrate their ability to analyze text by writing a literary review for the New York Review of Books. In these cases, the assessment is carried out within the project.
In some cases the assessment follows the project. For example, students might gather data on the water quality in a local stream, then present their findings to local authorities, or at an event with parents and community present. Then the students would write a scientific report explaining what they have discovered, which is used for assessment.
Sometimes, assessment might even precede the project. For example, we had a project where students did a lab activity to figure out the best way to clean up an oil spill, which was assessed for content understanding and the use of various skills. This was preparation for a debate that culminated the project, in which they played the parts of various stakeholders affected by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
School-wide rubrics are used to track student progress across projects, courses and grade levels. Their common language helps students understand the quality of work that is expected of them, and creates transparency and consistency for our students.
The “culminating defense” is a big challenge that our students face prior to graduating. This is a rite of passage, a chance for students to take stock of what they have accomplished. Students choose from the projects and tasks they have completed to create a portfolio, which they must present to demonstrate their accomplishments. They stand before a panel of peers, adult educators and mentors to demonstrate what they have learned, and reflect on their journey and beyond.
The defense is presented as a well-crafted argument, sharing artifacts as evidence of the student’s accomplishments. The panel can ask questions, and then uses a rubric to find evidence for the required components. If students do not succeed, they are coached in revising their presentation, so they can resubmit.
At Envision, the very act of preparing this portfolio is a chance for our students to actively reflect on what they have learned, and the portfolio defense requires them to demonstrate this to others. When our students have completed this, they get a solid boost from knowing what they have accomplished, and we can graduate them knowing that we have indeed given them the knowledge and abilities they will need in their futures.
School-Wide Performance Assessment
Now it's time for them to show they're ready for the next challenge: the next grade level, college, career. But how do they prove it? Join us for a look at a school-wide performance assessment system and see how it links students' work in projects to a demonstration of readiness.