Assessment: Part 1
"Teaching to the test" doesn't sound like good practice . . . but it depends on what the test is.
The final big test at Mustard Seed School consists of a series of eight academic exhibitions that our seventh and eighth grade students must pass in order to graduate. For each academic exhibition, a student must
- address a significant academic domain and perform a demanding and relevant task.
- write a formal essay.
- deliver a public presentation for an audience that ranges from a small group of five to a large group of nearly a hundred peers and adults.
Along with each step, students walk through the eight domains of visual arts, music, leadership and service, language and literature, history, science, mathematics, and an area of choice. With each achievement, students demonstrate the readiness and competence needed for many of life's demands, including high school level work. This is no small task. As students present and defend their work, they are experiencing a test that is tangible, interactive, and consequential.
Practice and preparation is certainly focused and intense in the last two years of school at MSS (both at home and in school), but actually, the work starts in Kindergarten and in The Nest. All school experiences, from the very early years, are aimed at helping students do well on this kind of exit exam. The skills and habits they need are the same rigorous intellectual learning habits that characterize school learning in every grade every year.
Each day and throughout the day, students are expected to weigh evidence, understand diverse viewpoints, discern patterns and relationships, imagine alternate possibilities, and consider relevance as they work individually and collaboratively to solve problems and create new ideas. Across the years, students must acquire increasing knowledge.
Still further, they must develop skills in both oral and written communication in order to be persuasive in a larger world context, and they must struggle to organize thoughts, time, and materials in order to be efficient and effective. Knowledge of critical subject matter and creative thinking, communication skills, and organizational skills must be demonstrated again and again at school, especially when the time comes for the final academic exhibitions.
Our students always do well on other types of tests, too: on standardized tests, high school entrance exams, and more. (You can read more about MSS students and standardized tests here.) However, if we want to really put students to the test in a way that tests their mettle and prepares them for the very large step that comes after graduation, these exhibitions are the tests that show us what counts. Better yet, if we want to see students surprise themselves eight times over by exceeding their own expectations and doing more than they realized they could do, then these are the tests that matter most.
by Kathleen K. Hanson
Director of Grades 1-8