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OnCUE Archive - 2001, December

Assessment Outside the Box

by Sara Armstrong

For assessment to be meaningful, it must be
formative rather than summative ? that is, those who are being
assessed must benefit directly from the results of the scoring. When
students know ahead of time what is expected ?? and can even
participate in developing the scoring guide ?? they will know
how they measure up against rubrics or standards. They will get an
opportunity to reflect upon and discuss how they would change what
they have done, in order to deepen their understanding of the
problem or task at hand, after their work is completed. Students may
be given an opportunity to redo or take their work to the next step,
demonstrating a higher level of competence. Traditional standardized
high-stakes tests fail on all aspects of this scenario. If any
change in instruction occurs as a result of the test scores, it will
benefit those who sit in the student desks or take the test the next
year. The most powerful measures of understanding are built into
student work as part of a continual feedback loop.

At Mountlake Terrace High School near Seattle,
Eeva Reeder?s sophomore geometry students finish the year with a
complex project. They work in teams to design learning spaces for
high-school students in the year 2050. Given a particular site map
with specified geographical features, they are required to develop a
CAD-drawn site map for their school, create a budget, build a model,
write a narrative, and present their ideas in 10 minutes to a pair
of local architects who specialize in building innovative schools.
One team is selected as the winner of the ?contract.?

All teams develop or improve collaboration
skills, apply their geometry knowledge, experience working on a
?real life? project, use appropriate technology for their
research and the development of required materials, and present
their work for judgment by experts. Students earn points based on
their group participation (judged by themselves and their peers),
each part of the work and project, the architects? scores, and the
instructor?s rubric. They also meet with the instructor after
reflecting on their experience, and some choose to re-do portions of
their project even though their grades won?t change ? simply for
the satisfaction of improving their work.

The Big Island of Hawaii houses West Hawaii
Exploratory Academy (WHEA), a charter high school that specializes
in project-based learning.  Some students develop complex scientific studies, such as
Erin Rietow?s study of the restoration of brackish ancient ponds,
which she shared with University of Hawaii graduate students.
Through their work, students develop top-notch skills in research,
writing, public speaking, data collection, and technology for a
purpose. Students rely on the Internet for research. They create
databases, spreadsheets and graphs to illustrate their work. And
when they go out into the field to measure heat or oxygen, for
example, they are likely to be carrying a probe or other computer
device to make their job easier and more accurate.

Teachers at WHEA serve as facilitators, helping
students design their projects, find the information or develop the
skills they need, and participate in the evaluation of the success
of the project and the students? next steps. Students receive
grades and are assessed through a variety of means: evidence
folders, research papers, literary critiques and time management
sheets. Use of technology is a prime requirement. And there?s
another kind of assessment: only 25 percent of WHEA students and 35
percent of students at a neighboring high school enter 10th grade
believing they?ll go to college. Upon graduation, WHEA actually
sends 40 percent of its students to college ?? the other school
sends 25 percent.

At the Applied Learning Academy in Fort Worth,
Texas, middle schoolers participate in a number of community
projects as part of their studies, such as the development of
materials to help students gain more understanding of art when they
and their families visit the local Amon Carter Museum. For example,
curators called upon the students to create ?Lunchbox Tours? for
use by families. A committee of two seventh-graders and four
sixth-graders reviewed the Amon Carter collection and chose works
with the most kid appeal. They developed themed lunchboxes based on
categories such as landscape, abstract work, sculpture, photography,
modern and Western art. Student work was done partly at the museum
and partly at school, taking advantage of computers, digital cameras
and scanners there. Contributions included visual design ideas for
the guide pages and text edits. From these, museum professionals
gained valuable insights into students? interests. Although no
grades are assigned for work performed in community partnerships,
students develop portfolios demonstrating what they have learned in
all subject areas, including community partnership work. The basis
for assessment at the school includes mandates from Texas.
Portfolios are reviewed regularly with parents.

At The Urban Academy Laboratory High School in
New York City, every graduating senior must complete a series of
proficiencies in six key academic areas: creative arts, criticism,
literature, mathematics, social studies and science. These
intensive, project-oriented assessments are in addition to whatever
tests, papers and projects students complete as part of their
regular coursework. Students typically begin work on their
proficiencies in their sophomore year and must have completed at
least one proficiency in order to be considered a senior.

In these and many other projects, technology can
play an important role in instruction, learning and assessment.
Teachers may use hand-held devices to record qualitative and
quantitative information about students as they work on their
projects.  Students
collect data on handhelds or laptops, which they then analyze and
incorporate into their multimedia presentations; student teachers
develop lessons they share online, critique and build into
presentations for their peers and instructors. 

On the topic of project-based learning and
assessment, national and international experts such as Grant
Wiggins, president and director of programs at Relearning by Design;
Sylvia Chard, director of the Child Study Centre at the University
of Alberta; Louis Gomez, association professor of learning science
and computer science at Northwestern University; and Seymour Papert,
director of the epistemology and learning group at the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, can be found online at <www.glef.org>
along with interviews with principals and teachers from the featured
schools.

Sara Armstrong, Ph.D., an educator for
more than 25 years, is director of Content at The George Lucas
Educational Foundation. As a staff developer and presenter at
conferences, she uses stories to help participants think about ways
to integrate appropriate technology tools and educational research
into their work. A member of East Bay CUE, she is a former CUE Board
member and a Gold Disk winner. Information about schools mentioned
in this article was adapted from stories that can be found on the
GLEF Web site by GLEF?s content team: Diane Curtis, Roberta Furger,
Paula Monsef, and Sara Armstrong.