Monty Neill’s full review of the internet series

*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.

Monty Neill, Ed.D.; Executive Director, FairTest; P.O. Box 300204,
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-477-9792;;