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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

*Read the introduction to this series: Student Portfolios: Quality Performance Assessment in Action

In early June, I got to go along with some members of the Quality Performance Assessment team to visit The Green School, a small charter school in Rhode Island, to participate in the evaluation of sophomore student portfolio presentations. These projects are meant for the sophomore students to reflect on how they’ve grown socially, emotionally and academically and how they intend to overall improve in these areas going forward. They also serve to supplement the more traditional standardized tests as a way of determining if sophomore students are ready to move on to the eleventh grade and handle the challenges ahead of them.

Throughout the day, I got to see a diverse set of student personalities and talents. Though very eclectic, every one of these personality and talent types shared a commonality: passion. This is one of the key differences between traditional testing and the project-based learning utilized by The Green School. A “standardized” test elicits just what its name suggests i.e. a streamlined and fixed way to evaluate a student’s acquisition of knowledge. Project-based learning, on the other hand, recognizes that each student has a unique aspect about them and encourages uniqueness rather than suppressing it by removing the rigid assessment character imposed by traditional tests.

There is one case in particular that highlights these differences. This instance involves the first student that I saw present. Before the student even started presenting, he was noticeably nervous. This nervousness continued throughout more than half of the presentation until he started talking about his academic interest in science and engineering. Suddenly there was a noticeable shift in his posture, voice and demeanor. This student, who less than ten minutes ago was timid, nervous, and seemingly impassionate, was now lighting up the room. The glow immediately took effect and gradually intensified as he detailed his favorite areas of science and how he was planning on taking some classes on engineering at a local community college.

What struck me most was that this 10th grader, whose timid manner may on the outside suggest a cautious mentality, was actually doing something braver than I would have ever imagined doing when I was in 10th grade. A standardized test or other hands-off method of learning wouldn’t have given his teachers the opportunity to see the desire and passion to learn hidden behind that shy and quiet nature. Neither would it have allowed that student to have an opportunity for self-reflection and introspection, which is crucial for someone to have before transitioning from high school. Ultimately, he learned about something more important than any test question would have elicited. He learned what drove his ambition to continue on to the next grade and what school really meant to him beyond just a grade on a sheet of paper.

Read Part 3 in this series: Assessing Yourself in New Ways