During March, third and fifth grade students participated in the Performance Based Assessment process. Each child sat in front of a panel of adults. These adults included their teacher, another teacher, perhaps an administrator or a paraprofessional, a student teacher, and sometimes, an educator from another school as well as parents. Together the panel asked the student questions to access what the child had learned and determine how the child could speak about his or her learning and writing process. It was a rewarding experience for all.
The PBAs assess each student as an individual, based on the child’s own starting place and the steady progress accomplished each year. Teachers can view PBA videos from the previous year and watch their students develop confidence, articulation skills and depth of thought. This allows teachers to thoughtfully develop next steps for each student.
This assessment tool is quite different from the standard one otherwise known as the state exam. Standardized test results are delivered as a spreadsheet of Common Core Standards that students either achieve or do not achieve. These results arrive in the summer and therefore are only available to inform instruction for the next teacher.
Our graduating fifth graders are the first BNS students to have participated in the performance based assessment process in third, fourth and fifth grade. And indeed, a few of those fifth graders were able to speak about their growth in their ability to do this kind of work. Our PBA work is something that we are very proud of and as we listened to these fifth graders, we could see the young people that they are becoming. It is exciting to observe someone thinking. There is power in their words.
Compare this to those standardized tests, which will be administered when we return from spring break. The ELA test is on April 11 and 12 while the math test will be on May 1 and 2. BNS is an unusual school in that we do not do any test prep before these exams.
Before standardized tests became the be all and end all of schooling, it was understood that a good education was the only thing needed to prepare for tests. And in fact, that was true. Our students would take the exams and for the most part, the ones who were comfortably reading and writing and thinking mathematically would get a good or even a great score. Children for whom reading, writing, and math were hard would get lower scores.
As the state tests were used to hold teachers and schools accountable for student performance, test prep became standard in most schools. Instead of learning to read for meaning and to find out information, students were learning how to answer tricky questions, how to eliminate the wrong answers, and how to scan numbered sentences (called paragraphs) for the correct bubbled in response. Children were not learning how to think, how to wonder, how to ask questions nor how to develop theories. It was and is a very narrow approach to learning.
A few years ago, when our staff decided that we could no longer participate in this test preparation process, we made our thinking clear to families. There was many a meeting on testing as well as lots of discussions of various perspectives and understandings. Today most people know that at BNS, the emphasis will be on social studies, science, problem solving, talking, and reading and writing. It will not be on getting the right answer.
For this reason, our children are truly at a disadvantage when they take the state tests. We simply have not prepared them for the specific skills necessary to answer multiple choice and short response questions, determined by the test makers to have only one correct answer. If other schools did not do test prep, our lack of test prep would not make a difference, but of course, that is not the reality.
When children leave elementary and middle school, state standardized tests are no more. BNS students with or without a state score are able to excel as they have learned how to think, how to problem solve and how to develop hypotheses, asking questions, wondering and participating in the democratic process of learning.
A BNS graduate epitomizes our values and the next thing we know, they are out in the world giving back and being important and powerful members of our communities.
All for now,
Want to Know More? Join us for a discussion of testing tonight, Monday night, at 6:00 pm.
Quote of the Week:
As fifth grade was walking to the ballfield last Monday, Adam Ben Ali, a student in Rachael’s class commented, “We are all lucky. We all go to this school. We are properly educated. We should be grateful.”
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