Head of School Blog

Volume: 13 Issue: 19 - Testing…Testing…1-2-3!

Jill Singleton
The end of the school year is marked by a number of exciting events, such as Spirit Week, Field Day, Classroom Closing Ceremonies and the Summer Send Off. Perhaps not as exciting but definitely as important, the end of the year also brings with it a number of year-end assessments designed to capture a snapshot of each child’s curriculum mastery and understanding. Assessments are framed in grade-appropriate ways, with the youngest children not even realizing, perhaps, that they are being tested, and with Middle School students engaging in a week of “final exams.” These closing assessments offer meaningful opportunities for teachers to review curriculum concepts in a cumulative fashion, and provide helpful data that will be factored into our evolving understanding of each student’s developing repertoire of skills and abilities.

At All Saints, we have created a set of year-end benchmarks that teachers use to measure a child’s progress and determine readiness for the next grade level. Because teachers use these same benchmarks at the end of Trimesters 1 and 2, and have a strong sense of each child’s individual strengths and challenge areas, there usually aren’t any true surprises at the end of the year. The use of these markers for assessing individual achievement assists teachers in the process of sharing specific and relevant feedback in progress reports. Teachers also are able to see trends in performance, helping them identify curriculum areas where they may need to focus more attention the next year and providing them with information that can be shared with the next grade-level teacher so that any gaps or areas for reinforcement can be addressed at the beginning of the next year. Finally, this process can also pinpoint specific skills that parents may want to have their children work on over the summer months.

Year-end assessments play an important role in the developing mind of the child. There is a variety of research that shows the benefit of cumulative exams, in which students are asked to recall information previously learned. Studying the same material again after a lapse of time actually produces the most significant increase in learning; this is known as the “spacing effect.” Thus, when students learn something in January, but are asked to study and recall or analyze it for an exam in June, it is this second learning that helps the information stick in the long-term memory.

Of course, we don’t wait until the end of the year to see how students are doing! Assessment is an ongoing process, and we use a variety of ways to gather and analyze data to assess student learning and curriculum efficacy. I thought it would be useful to provide a listing of assessments that are used at All Saints to give parents and our community a better understanding of the rich and varied testing protocol used at our school.

Curriculum Assessment

Writing samples: Teachers collect writing samples from each student at the beginning of year and repeat the same writing assignment at the end of each year to show growth. We are currently researching to move to more formal writing assessment.

Unit Tests: Teachers administer age-appropriate tests at the end of each unit of study in core academic courses.

Final Exams (grades 5-8): Middle school students take cumulative final exams at the end of each trimester with varying degrees of difficulty and expectation. For example, students in Fifth and Sixth Grade Math are permitted to use a single page of notes during their test, which they are assisted in preparing ahead of time. Students in Seventh and Eighth Grade Math are permitted to use a single note card full of notes during their test, which they must prepare on their own.

Projects: Projects are interdisciplinary, creative and written works that can take the place of a test or be assigned in addition to a test. Projects provide an alternate form of assessment that can capture strengths that some students are unable to show on a typical test.
• Writing Assignments: Students in all grades complete a variety of writing assignments throughout each year pertaining to various academic subjects. Writing assignments are graded using a rubric based on the 6+1 Traits, the curriculum we use to teach elements of writing beginning in First Grade.

Standardized Assessment
• Gesell (Nursery and Pre-K)
• Stanford (Grades K-2)
• ERB (Grades 3-8)
• Direct Reading Assessments (Grades 1-4)
• Teachers analyze the standardized test data to identify areas of strength and challenge with regard to the individual student and the overall curriculum. Adjustments are made to curriculum as needed.

Progress Reports & Conferences

Benchmarks: Teachers review the core curriculum benchmarks for each student at the mid-year point and the end of the year to track progress each year. Information gleaned through this process is included in student progress reports.
Progress Reports: Progress reports are written for each student three times a year at the end of each trimester. Progress reports include a checklist for each category, a narrative about the individual student, and letter grades for students in Grades 3-8.
Parent-Teacher Conferences: Teachers meet with parents to discuss the progress report and their child’s growth at the end of the first and second trimesters, with an option for a meeting at the end of the third trimester.
Mid-Term Reports: Students in Grades Nursery-Four who are experiencing difficulty are given a written report at the mid-term with specific areas of concern and the child’s current level of performance (and letter grade, if appropriate). All Middle School students receive a Mid-Term Report, which includes their grade average and a brief narrative.
Tuesday Trackers (Grade 5-8): Middle school students receive weekly feedback including their graded assessments, homework, class participation, and brief teacher comments.
Student-led conferences (Grades 5-8): Middle School students reflect on their own growth and the work they have done throughout each trimester in a detailed form which includes checklists and narratives. This prepares the student to discuss their own thoughts about themselves and their work with their parents and teachers at conference time.

Interviews and Testimony

Teacher interviews between grades: At the end of each school year, teachers meet with colleagues in the grade below and the grade above to provide/receive information on rising students including their strengths, challenges, home support, etc.
Round-table discussions with alumni: Beginning this year we will be meeting with alumni to get feedback from their high school experience on how we can improve our program.
Parents of alumni survey: Beginning this year we are sending out a Survey Monkey to collect data from parents of graduates near the end of their child’s Ninth Grade year. Again the purpose of this is to gather feedback based on their children’s high school experience about how we can improve our program.
Parent Guidance and Reflection Survey: Each year parents are asked to complete a guidance and reflection survey to provide teachers with information about how their child learns best, areas of challenge or concern, strategies that work or don’t work, etc.
Parent feedback at Back-to-School Nights: Parents complete a form at Back-to-School night early in the school year to provide specific feedback to teachers about how the year is going, how new routines are working, and how their child is experiencing the new grade level.
Parent survey: Every three years a Survey Monkey is sent out to the entire parent community to collect data about the success of our program, areas for improvement within our school, and general areas of concern.
Traditions, Awards, & Recognition
Mission Awards: Each year teachers are invited to nominate students for a variety of awards based on the tenets of the school’s mission statement. A committee is then formed to review the nominations and decide who will win the coveted mission awards for the year. Awards are given out at the annual Mission Celebration.
National Latin Exam results: Students in Grades 7-8 participate in the National Latin Exam as part of their Latin class. More than 149,000 Latin students from all 50 states and 13 foreign countries participate in this exam and are awarded based on their ranking. Students with the highest scores are also eligible for $1,000 scholarships.
Math Olympiads for Elementary and Middle School (MOEMS): Middle School students can choose to participate in Math Olympiads with nearly 150,000 students from all 50 states and about 30 other countries. Students complete five contests throughout the year and are ranked among the other 150,000 participants. Awards are given for students who rank in the top 50th and 25th percentiles, as well as to the top performer of each team.
Beyond All Saints
Portrait of a Graduate: All Saints has a written statement that details the academic and personal qualities our students are expected to demonstrate in order to graduate from Eighth Grade. Students must demonstrate their mastery of these skills in their actions and in written materials submitted as part of their High School Advisory class. Students write a seven-chapter autobiography, which integrates writing, literature, art, self-evaluation, character analysis, and produces student testimony about the success of our school’s mission.
High Schools to which students are accepted: Our Middle School graduated its first Eight Grade class last year, with these students being accepted to an impressive array of schools in the New York, New Jersey, and Washington D.C. areas. This year’s graduating class will add to that already-impressive list, which includes Xavier High School, Loyola School, and The Browning School, to name a few.

As you can see, All Saints employs a rich and varied assessment protocol aimed at identifying a student’s strengths and challenges, with a view towards helping the student achieve his or her personal best, while also identifying areas where the curriculum and classroom learning can be enhanced.

Comments? Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com.