Assessment that Supports Education – Short Video on Mission Hill School

Assessment that Supports Education

Recently, Boston area students and teachers organized an excellent conference, “Creating the Schools We Deserve.” It focused on what schools should be like and how we can win them. The conversations made clear that most people have never had the privilege of experiencing the kind of life-affirming, engaging, supportive, and multicultural schooling we can see at Boston’s Mission Hill School.

Understanding schools like Mission Hill can help students, parents, teachers and members of the community grasp just what wonderful schooling looks and feels like. So watch the video series, A Year at Mission Hill, if you have not yet done so. In 10 short segments, this beautifully shot, intimate and emotionally moving film portrays a truly remarkable school.

The question, “How do we know what and how well students are learning?” frames the most recent segment (9), “Seeing the Learning.” It reminds us that “assessment” comes from the Latin, “to sit beside.” It illustrates how “direct contact and conversation are the most accurate way to judge if a child has mastered a skill or concept.”

This episode introduces viewers to the Mission Hill portfolio system, collections of student work that complement the observations and interactions. As one teacher explains, “I really believe in looking at a student’s work as the best indicator.” The portfolios guide feedback to and evaluation of students. They also help teachers reflect on their teaching, individually and collectively.

Grade 8 graduation portfolios and exhibitions in multiple subjects are the culmination of students’ work, demonstrating their readiness for high school. They include a defense before a committee that includes an outside expert who brings new eyes from the adult worlds of work, college and civic engagement. If a student’s portfolio is not yet good enough, s/he has time to revise and complete it. (In much of this, Mission Hill resembles the New York Performance Standards Consortium.)

Though it’s not shown in the video, the graduation portfolios include on-demand tasks that students complete independently. Because students get detailed feedback from teachers and peers along the way, the school wants to ensure that students really can do quality work on their own.

The segment shows how the school uses authentic assessment in the context of its mission and daily practice. As a school focused on student-centered, project-based learning and led by strong educators who work collaboratively, Mission Hill prioritizes authentic assessment that values complex learning and teaching. But as a regular public school in Massachusetts, Mission Hill students must take state tests in grades 3-8 in math (that count for NCLB “accountability”) as well as some science tests. The school also has to avoid wasting its valuable instructional time on standardized “interim” tests offered by BPS central office.

Mission Hill should not have to jump through these hoops. As the school shows, better ways to evaluate students, schools and teachers exist. Winning such changes will require building political power – something that has clearly begun with this spring’s protests against standardized tests in cities around the nation.

The video series and this segment provide great evidence that our nation can develop educationally beneficial assessment. Most important, the film shows us why students and teachers – and we the public – deserve far better than test-based accountability.