Students apply to Del Lago with just a name and address and are selected by lottery to attend this trailblazing campus. Two Rivers is an EL Education school, where 10- to 12-week projects in science and social studies called “learning expeditions” require students to solve problems with higher-order thinking. Henry County Schools, a 50-campus public school district in metro Atlanta, Ga., follow a personalized learning model, tailoring education to meet the needs of its 42,531 students.
Henry County district is working to use feedback as an essential element for improving assessment of its student population, which is over 50 percent African American. The aim is district-wide implementation, but the pilot is scheduled for six schools and is now underway at three. By illustrating the power of classroom relationships — whether it’s peer-to-peer, teacher-student or administrator-teacher – feedback is the focus.
“The premise is to look at feedback loops with students to increase student ownership over how they learn, where and why they learn and with whom they learn,” said Melissa Thomas, who oversees the grant at Henry County. “We want to get to a place where students have that voice in what they need.”
Fourth grade math and science teacher Tiffany Early, who’s in her fourth year at Bethlehem Elementary School in Henry County, said the assessment training has taught her to be “more purposeful and deliberate” about contact with students. She’s making “an extra effort to learn about what a student likes and what their interests are, and make sure I can send several positive notes home.”
“We’ve always set goals, but they’ve been more long-term and more academically based. Because of this program, they’re more life skills or personality — How do I interact with my environment, the people in it and what’s my contribution?” she said.
This fresh take is just the beginning, as these pioneers in education make what they hope will be the first steps toward substantive change in the way students are evaluated. These new formative assessment models can work in concert with more ingrained summative approaches to prepare students for the future.
“Ultimately, we need students to be able to walk into a job or into college knowing how to advocate for themselves. ‘I know I know this and here’s how I know this,’ said Thomas, of Henry County.
The benefits extend to teachers as well, said Husain, of Two Rivers. “You’re teaching to the right test,” he said. “If you make the right test, you should teach to it.”
Editor’s note: Sharon Jayson spent a decade at USA Today covering national trends, including education and research. Now based in Austin, Texas, she is a freelance journalist.