Home Program Assessments
As a progressive school, Park Day strives to create an environment where students can dream big, take risks, and innovate. Instead of assigning traditional letter grades, school transcripts reflect a formative approach to assessment. We focus on the learning process in its entirety, and not just on the final product of a learning unit. Teachers measure and document student growth on an ongoing basis almost daily, across subject areas. Embedded within a social and emotional framework, assessments ensure each student gets the support and guidance needed to build on past successes.
Without grades as a factor, intrinsic motivation is paramount and students ask more questions, dive deeper, and take more ownership for their learning. While skills in math, spelling, and other foundational building blocks are assessed, the focus is on effort and comprehension. Each student’s personal development is paramount, and their ability to understand and take charge of their own learning is the desired outcome.
We strive to create an environment where students can maximize creativity and thoughtful analysis. Our teachers get to know each child individually through the school year, and provide parents with detailed written narrative progress reports twice a year. Formal parent-teacher conferences occur twice a year and as needed. Students are consistently encouraged to reflect on their work and growth, and advocate for themselves when needed in order to deepen their understanding.
Educators send home comprehensive written narratives twice a year. These 12-16 page assessments include a string of standards based skills assessments in each academic area measuring multiple skills in each area. Ratings include: meets expectations; exceeds expectations; developing; area of concern. Teachers also write out narratives to add depth and analysis to student learning in different areas. If a student is struggling, teachers will reach out and communicate with a family in order to partner in support of a child’s learning in advance of any formal feedback.
Sample Kindergarten Progress report
Sample 6th Grade Progress report
Teacher conferences are held midway through the term, twice a year. Student-selected portfolios are part of each conference, and teachers guide parents through student work, and each student’s growth edge and areas of success. Beginning in the spring of 2nd grade, students take part in helping lead these conferences. They share their own successes, alongside stretch and challenge areas while outlining personal goals.
As students are acquiring initial foundational skills in math, spelling and literacy, regular assessments (problem sets, quizzes, and in-class assignments), play a key role in helping teachers understand each student’s development. The emphasis on these learning outcomes is on how a student can improve, rather than on any associated numerical score. In the upper grades, when students are scored on certain assignments and quizzes, the focus continues to be on the problem solving/critical thinking process, with room to revise work if the score or outcome is one that can be improved upon.
The hallmark of Park Day’s progressive program is the relationships teachers have with their students, and the effort teachers put in to understanding their students social-emotional, as well as their academic needs, strengths, and challenges. Through individual project work, presentations, problem-sets, group-work, and observations and interactions in class, teachers have a sense of each child as both a learner and as a member of the class community. Teachers know what kind of differentiation is needed in each subject for each child, and which partnerships and group configurations will best challenge and support learning. Our goal is to ultimately stretch each student in the just-right way within the context of their classroom community.
Our early readers program uses Fountas & Pinnell which includes one-on-one formative and summative assessments. Reading assessments continue in the upper grades until mastery is attained. Our K-4 spelling program is Phonics, Spelling and Word Study, and Words Their Way in 5th grade. The emphasis is on learning spelling patterns, rather than acing a spelling test through rote memorization. Park Day uses the K-5 Bridges in Mathematics program in which students learn multiple ways to solve problems. The emphasis is on showing different ways of thinking, and includes regular written assessments to gage student understanding for future work.
There is a lot of research about how people learn, and schools all over the country are beginning to explore the approach progressive schools like Park Day have embraced for decades. Instead of the one-size-fits-all standardized exams, Park Day School favors the sorts of evaluation supported by research and described in the landmark National Research Council report “How People Learn”. We use assessments that provide students with opportunities to revise and improve their thinking, and help teachers identify problems that need to be remedied.
This method of assessment is gaining in popularity as educational experts consider the skills students need to be successful in a rapidly changing world. Organizations like the Mastery Transcript Consortium (which includes schools like College Prep, the Nueva School, University High School, and many more) recognizes that “the traditional transcript reinforces outdated modes of education…it sorts and sifts students through narrow measures such as grades and GPAs, reducing each complex and unique individual to a simple number.” Their efforts represent a dramatic alternative to the status quo, supporting “each student in learning for today’s world, in exploring and pursuing varied pathways to futures that compel them, and in being recognized for acquiring and mastering skills both inside and outside of school,” similarly to how progressive schools have been assessing students for years.
KQED’s Mindshift: Assessments
How People Learn, National Research Council
NPR: What kind of parent are you?
Progressive Education: Why it’s hard to beat, but also hard to find
Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America’s Schools