Frequent assessment matters.

It is how teachers and students know what has been learned and what needs to be learned. Mustard Seed School teachers know their students well and use systems of assessments every day.

It looks like this:

  • The third grade teacher continually assesses how her students read. They need to read an appropriate book at 100-120 words per minute. Not just for a few minutes, but for a sustained period of time. They must do this using appropriate pausing, phrasing, intonation, stress, and integration.
  • The fifth grade teacher pointedly questions students every day in math. He asks each student to give and weigh evidence, determine the best strategy, and support an argument. This process reveals understanding or misconception.
  • The fourth grade teacher studies the notebooks her students keep about the books that they are reading. Through their writing, she can evaluate reading comprehension. At the same time, she can see if their writing demonstrates personal voice, sentence fluency, and proper conventions.
  • What’s more, seventh and eighth grade students must complete eight rigorous academic exhibitions as a part of the graduation requirement. Each exhibition requires research, writing, and public presentation. Each is a significant assessment.

What about standardized tests?

Standardized tests have their place. Beginning in fourth grade, students take the Terra Nova Complete Battery and Plus assessments. For decades, Mustard Seed students have performed admirably on these tests. Our class means fall at or above the 80th percentiles in every grade every year in language arts, mathematics, and other tested areas.

In the end, education is not just about bits of pieces of knowledge shown in a moment. It’s about on-going habits of work and mind, critical and creative thinking, deep understandings, persistence, and flexibility. Meaningful learning activities in school—comparing and contrasting, arguing and defending, gathering and weighing evidence—are important assessments. They show students and teachers what is known and what needs to be learned next. This is the kind of assessment that makes a difference.