Continuing our focus of identifying alternative narratives to the testing and accountability rhetoric of current reform efforts, I wish to put forth the Common Ground Charter School in New Haven, Connecticut as an example of how we can do education differently.
Common Ground focuses on sustainability,
Through challenging interdisciplinary block classes and core academic classes, student learn about important environmental issues, both global and local. Courses like Environmental Justice, Biodiversity, Ecologia, and Food & The Environment focus squarely on the ecological challenges facing our community and our planet – while also developing the essential skills and understandings students need to succeed in college. Truly unique courses — like Environmental Ventures, where students start and run small businesses using products from the farm — help students apply their passions to environmental challenges. Beyond the core environmental curriculum, every class on campus – from British Literature to Accelerated Algebra – takes on key environmental themes.
Furthermore they understand the value of life as learning, and application of understanding as the best way to demonstrate mastery.
Experiences outside the school building extend academic learning. Our students complete senior projects focused on social justice and environmental topics. They participate in a year-long Green Jobs Corps, taking on paid internships at local environmental organizations and participating in a year-long leadership and career development program.
Here’s a great article (watch the video!) that talks about how students are involved in the development of the school, applying their knowledge through proposals to bolster the campus’ “greenness,” and how their work will be utilized in the real world. These aren’t science fair projects or world fair posters that just get trashed.
Their work is real, it is being judged-just like a bid on a project or RFP-for how well it can reduce negative environmental impacts and at what financial cost for actual implementation by the school. That creates authentic feedback for the students, and if you watched the video you know that the kids have to talk about their work, which in my experience is one of the best ways for students to demonstrate their current levels of understanding and mastery of concepts.
Explore their website for yourself as I just scratched the surface of what they are doing. Let’s identify what they do really well and what’s just more of the same. For example, as they consider themselves a college-prep school, they mention that they are still concerned about SAT’s. I think they are in an excellent position to begin supporting students in opting out of standardized testing and putting forth their documented learning and work as suitable preparation for college.
Some colleges have already begun not looking at SAT scores as part of their admissions process. In order for more colleges to adopt this policy, I believe we have to offer them higher-quality alternatives so that they can more confidently justify not asking for scores any longer. Then instead of high schools saying “we emphasize the SAT’s because colleges ask for them,” we can say “we offer colleges higher-quality assessment of student’s proficiency and preparedness such that the SAT’s are irrelevant and colleges agree.”
What are your examples of current practices that can aid us in innovating beyond standardized tests?