Evidence of effective teaching can be found in the quality of work that students produce and in the level of thinking students convey through their speaking and writing. An authentic assessment reveals the depth and complexity of student learning. Some of our methods of authentic assessment from kindergarten through high school at HVA include:
Conferring: The word “assessment” derives from the Latin “assidere,” meaning “to sit beside.” Conferring with a student is one of the most effective forms of assessment, in which a teacher sits beside a student, observes him working, and asks him purposeful questions to determine the degree and depth of the student’s understanding.
Portfolio: Students at HVA articulate and demonstrate their learning through a portfolio of written work that demonstrates evidence of academic advancement. The portfolio requires students to demonstrate proficiency in several genres of writing including narrative, informational, and argument, as well as competence in on-demand writing. In reading, students provide evidence of mastery of increasingly complex texts.
Socratic Seminar: When HVA designed our new high school, we included several Harkness rooms for Socratic seminar. As a public intellectual forum, Socratic Seminar teaches students to think deeply, speak persuasively, and to create sophisticated arguments. It emphasizes a level of questioning and thinking where there is usually no single right answer. During Socratic Seminar, students closely read great works of literature and important documents, analyze their significance, and provide evidence-based, reasonable answers to large, open-ended questions. Seminar involves disciplined thinking and high-level academic discourse. For example, students in a history class may read six different texts on Gandhi’s “Satyagraha,” including a speech by M.A. Jinnah and a letter by M.N. Roy, then lead a discussion on a question such as, “What were the strengths and limitations of Gandhi’s approach?”
A Note on Standardized Tests: As a charter school, we are accountable for student performance on standardized tests in order to maintain the autonomy afforded by our charter. While we are troubled by the overemphasis on standardized testing and test prep in our country, we do hold ourselves accountable for results. Ultimately, we believe that the best way to prepare students to take almost any test is to teach incredibly well.