Hopefully, many of you have noticed a shift in our teaching and learning environment away from a more traditional teacher-centered classroom to a more progressive student-centered learning environment.
The days of the teacher being the sole owner of content knowledge are gone. With the ongoing development of multiple technological tools we are able to access content knowledge at the push of a button or with a brief voice command. The teacher’s role has evolved from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side”. Hence, assessment cannot be based solely on the memorization of facts or the reciting of memorized content. Students today must be able to use acquired knowledge and skills to create, innovate, and problem solve to be successful.
In the last two years, we have made significant gains in determining how we believe students learn in the 21st century. Working through the objectives of our strategic plan, we have written and published the School’s first educational philosophy. We have adopted the six learning competencies, character, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and cosmopolitanism recognized by the National Association of Independent Schools. We continue to review and refine our curriculum maps ensuring a stronger integration of all disciplines, and finally we have created new daily student schedules that are in alignment with the latest research on how students learn.
With the implementation of our new daily schedules in Middle and Upper School our faculty will now have more time for our students to demonstrate their learning in the classroom environment. For many years we have used a more traditional assessment model that measures a student’s ability to recall content knowledge and begin to transfer some of this knowledge to new situations. Please note that there will always be a certain amount of foundational knowledge that everyone must have at their fingertips to confidently be part of an intellectual discussion or to defend their individual opinion. However, in today’s world, it has become exceedingly important to teach our students how to apply their acquired knowledge and skills to create new meanings and problem solve in real-life situations.
Our faculty has worked hard this summer reviewing and renewing our curriculum in preparation for the new teaching and learning environment our new schedule provides us. Many teachers have been collaborating in teams this summer to better integrate the disciplines assuring a more relevant connection to each discipline for each student. With such significant shifts in our teaching and learning environment it is important that our assessments measure the skills we seek to emphasize. With any great organization it is imperative that if you change the “how” you go about conducting your business that you must also change how you will measure or in this case assess student learning.
This year we will not be administering first semester exams in the format we have used in the past. In the past we have set aside four to six days to administer cumulative exams. During this time all new learning basically stopped to administer one or two exams a day. With our new schedule, we will still be administering cumulative assessments, but we will be able to administer them during our longer class blocks on a more frequent basis enabling our students to gain more instructional time.
Randolph is not alone among independent schools to take this approach to learning and assessment, moving away from traditional standardized instruction and testing. Many schools are beginning to pilot and evaluate new assessment models. Currently, our Upper School has been piloting The Harvard Assessment Seminars along with other schools in our INDEX benchmarking consortium. INDEX is a consortium of 50 well-established independent day schools throughout the country. The primary purpose of this consortium is to share data, analysis, research, and information to aid member schools in decision-making, policy development, and strategic planning. This assessment consists of an online survey of all freshmen and seniors and one-on-one interviews of randomly selected samples of approximately 20 freshmen and 20 seniors. This assessment is modeled from the Harvard Assessment Seminars that were first conducted during the mid-80s at Harvard University. The purpose of the assessment was to help students make the most of their undergraduate years. The assessment seminars centered on helping faculty members determine how they could most effectively help students learn and on encouraging and assessing innovation in the classroom. The goal of this INDEX benchmarking consortium adaptation is hopefully to accomplish the same goal by assessing various student perspectives and experiences during their upper school years.
This year our Middle School will begin piloting the Mission Skills Assessment (MSA). This assessment is being developed through a partnership with INDEX schools and Educational Testing Services. The MSA is designed to assess skills that are critical to life success, but rarely measured in the school environment. The MSA uses student feedback rating scales, teacher feedback rating scales, and scenario based items and questions to assess creativity, ethics, resilience, intrinsic motivation, teamwork, and time management. This assessment will be administered to students in grades 6-8.
As we continue to make this transition from teacher- to student-centered learning environments, we will continue to review new student assessment models as they come to fruition and determine their value in measuring the acquisition of knowledge and skills that are critical to life success.