For thirty years, the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) has championed a skills-based approach to secondary education that emphasizes learning to use one’s mind well, solving real problems, and demonstrating mastery of a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. One of the CES’s Ten Common Principles states that “the aphorism “less is more” should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content…”
At the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, demonstration of student mastery and achievement happens daily as students work with their teacher-coaches to complete assessments and projects in interdisciplinary classes. These individual pieces of work are assessed using school-wide standards and rubrics in thirteen different skill areas. Often students engage in revision after receiving feedback; once their work meets standards, it becomes eligible for inclusion in the student’s portfolio. To advance through Parker’s six-year program of studies, students are required to meet the school’s standards for Divisions I, II, and III, though they may do so at the rate appropriate for their individual development. Students demonstrate mastery of curricular standards in each Division through “Gateway Exhibitions” in which they present and defend their academic portfolios. The final Gateway is graduation, for which students complete special Graduation Portfolios and present a year-long senior project.
Gateway Exhibitions are more than milestones—they’re also an opportunity for reflection and for recognizing that not all learning is captured within the portfolio itself. Here’s a Parker parent talking about her daughter’s Gateway Exhibition in Math/Science/Technology last spring:
“During A’s Gateway this spring, she spent time discussing one of her MST pieces that she failed. She said that she was glad that she had failed because she had learned more from failing than she would have learned if she had succeeded. Not only did she speak articulately about drag and flow and volume, she spoke about learning to ask questions, and that how now she asks questions not only to clarify and extend her learning, but because she is curious!”
Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School will be one of 22 schools featured at the Breaking Ranks School Showcase at Ignite 2014. The Parker team will be presenting Common Principles, Uncommon Results: Whole-School Approach to Authentic Assessment and Inquiry-Based on Thursday, February 6th.