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Unpacking Each Feature of Student-Centered Schools

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Assessments are tools to understand what students know and can do. Assessments can be used as a formative measure to inform what a student knows and what they still need to learn or a summative measure to mark learning at an end point. One of the most distinguishing factors about a student-centered educational approach is a seismic shift in the purpose of assessments, away from a focus on accountability measures designed to separate students from one another and toward a focus on promoting learning and mastery for all students. Assessments provide vital feedback to both students and teachers that enhances the learning process.

A focus on mastery reorients the pacing of teaching on ensuring that students demonstrate proficiency before they move on. This often means revising work numerous times or finding varied ways for students to demonstrate their understanding.

In student-centered schools, a graduate profile that identifies what all graduates of that school should know and be able to do is the driver of major assessments, which then in turn becomes the driver of classroom instruction. Assessment happens at all levels of instruction, from informal check-ins between a student and teacher to a culminating exhibition needed to graduate. Student-centered assessments can include portfolios and exhibitions, which set challenging tasks that are intended to encourage deep learning and create a sense of high expectations and mutual accountability. These may include social science research papers, science experiments, literary essays, and mathematical models or projects that require in-depth study, extensive writing, and oral presentation before committees of teachers and outside jurors, rather like a dissertation defense. They may also include interdisciplinary projects that are problem-based, sometimes grounded in internships. Major performance-based assessments are evaluated according to standards and revised until they meet the standards.   



Questions for reflection:

Types of Assessment and Criteria

1)       Do you have a well-articulated graduate profile of what students should know and be able to do by the time they graduate? How are assessments (within and across content areas) aligned to this graduate profile?

2)       What are the multiple ways that students can demonstrate and defend their learning? How are assessments authentic measures of what students know and can do?

3)       Are formative assessments a frequent component of your instruction? How does it inform how you teach?

4)       How do formative assessments work to ensure students are successful during larger summative assessments?

5)       Do grading structures fairly represent students’ process as well as their end product work?

6)       How do you think about which assignments/projects/tasks need a major performance-based assessment?

7)       How are assessments structured to capture the essential knowledge and skills students need for a given project or activity?

8)       How might you include authentic audiences into assessments?



9)       How do teachers collaborate in the design and implementation of culminating tasks for performance-based assessments?

10)  How do you ensure that criteria and rubrics for assessment are consistent across grade levels and departments?


Reflection & Revision

11)    How often do you explicitly ask students to reflect on their learning process and/or offer feedback to you about the style of instruction?

12)    What kinds of opportunities do students have to revise and redo their work?

13)    Do students have opportunities to demonstrate their learning in an alternative way if they cannot successfully demonstrate it in the prescribed way?


Student Expectations

14)    How are students made aware of the criteria on which they are assessed?

15)    To what extent do students help develop the criteria?


Grades, Assessments, and Learning

16)    Under what circumstances are performance-based assessments high-stakes for students?

17)    How does your grade book reinforce an emphasis on mastery rather than an accumulation of points?

18)    Can students pass a class if they demonstrated they learned the material but did not complete all the classwork? Why or why not?

19)    Can students pass the class if they did all the required work but failed to demonstrate they understood the material? Why or why not?


PDF of all Reflection Questions

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