When students are accountable for their learning, they’re more engaged and satisfied with school

The Notebook, a news service for Philadelphia’s public schools, featured an excellent primer on project-based learning and assessment–two important pieces of the student-centered learning model–and how it is being implemented in some of the city’s schools:

Even as debate swirls around high-stakes standardized assessments, some schools are de-emphasizing tests and rote learning. Instead, they ask students to tackle projects that require brainstorming, concentration, big-picture thinking, and applying math, engineering, and science skills. Teachers, too, are learning new ways to assess students, offering feedback, rating students on setting and reaching goals, and translating the math and other academic skills used to complete a project into competencies on a report card. Others have embraced standards-based assessments, where students have a second chance to master content in order to achieve proficiency.

The common thread is the focus on student engagement in their own learning and an increasing awareness that when students learn by doing and reflect on their efforts, they are more likely to find satisfaction in school and see pathways to academic and career success.

Folded into the projects-based approach is a commitment to proficiency-based assessments, where the focus is on learning the material – getting to proficiency – instead of settling for a particular score on the day of the test. Teachers can find evidence of proficiency on a particular standard within the student’s body of work or by that student’s work on a formal assessment.

Failure or missed points are taken in stride.

“We consider failure to be part of the learning process,” said Merlino. “You practice a lot, you learn more, and finally you succeed.”

Many New Hampshire schools have implemented these methods in their own classrooms, allowing students to incorporate their own strengths and skills when demonstrating their learning.  Eight districts, including Concord, Epping, and Rochester, will be using locally managed competency-based assessments instead of the standardized statewide assessment this year in the PACE program. PACE allows teachers to develop assessments for their students that go beyond paper and pencil and give teachers a better understanding of concepts that students grasp and where they need improvement.

Khalil Hicks, a student at the Workshop School in West Philadelphia, reflects on his group-based project to build a cardboard boat and the final assessment–a presentation to his classmates, teacher, and father:

Even as Hicks was using duct tape and Latex paint to seal the sides of the boat and do all the other crafting that he did, he was learning the “soft” skills now in demand in the world of work. Among them: critical thinking and problem-solving. Creativity and entrepreneurship. Communication and collaboration.

On a recent morning, Hicks, 15, delivered an assessment of his efforts in a 20-minute presentation to classmates, his teachers, and his father.

His polo shirt was buttoned and tucked, and his wire-rimmed glasses caught the light as his PowerPoint flashed on the screen behind him.

“I did good, yes I did, but I could have put more time on the website and put more time into my script,” said Hicks.

“At this school, they want you to be honest about your work – if you did good, if you did bad, what you can do to improve. We reflect on every piece of work that we do,” said Hicks, standing in a hallway with his father, Tony Robertson. “This school is way different than other schools. It gives you lots of opportunities to do what you want to do.”

Read the full article here.