Rhode Island High School Capstone Projects Lauded

I missed this (and this) back in May (h/t Matt J.), but it’s worth noting that RI’s compulsory High School Capstone Projects are being eyeballed across the country, according to a ProJo report about a symposium convened to discuss RI’s program.

Some states are considering the merits of adding such student exhibitions to their own graduation requirements, relying less on standardized tests that in some cases have done little to improve student performance or better prepare graduates for life after high school. In Massachusetts, for example, a study released last month found that thousands of high school graduates arrive at college unable to do the work required of them, despite having passed the state MCAS exam.
“I believe Rhode Island is the wave of the future,” said Ray Pechone, co-executive director of the School Redesign Network at Stanford University and former head of curriculum and teacher assessment for the Connecticut State Department of Education. “The state is really a pioneer.”

How often do we here that!? To continue…..

Pechone said that 27 states use portfolios or projects as part of their diploma system, but usually as an alternative to traditional measures such as test scores. Another 23 states use “high-stakes tests” to determine whether a student should graduate.
Rhode Island, in contrast, uses three measures: grades from four years of classes; results from standardized tests administered in October of junior year; and “performance-based assessments,” such as portfolios, senior project or end-of-course exams.

Education commissioner Peter McWalters, who came in for high praise amongst this group, spoke to the symposium:

“The exhibition movement isn’t new,” McWalters told the audience in his introductory remarks. Elite private schools had a history of requiring seniors to recite Greek and Latin and prove their mastery of subjects prior to graduation, for example. Standardized testing is most valuable “as a dipstick, a barometer,” of how both students and schools are doing, but should not be used as the sole factor for graduating, McWalters said.
“Do these kids, when we say they are proficient, do they have a deep understanding? Does that understanding show up when they land in college or the work force? Because it all means nothing if they end up at the community college needing remedial courses. That has to be our final measure of how well this new system works — where do they land after high school?”
What makes Rhode Island stand out is that all three elements are considered essential and that students are expected to complete work in all three areas, Pechone said.
“Rhode Island is using good, New England, old-fashioned common sense in recognizing that four years of courses and grades and tests should count for something,” Pechone said.

Confession: I don’t have kids old enough to go through this, but as Justin pointed out back in March, expanding the basis for evaluation in this way seems like a good idea all around. I don’t know if these individualized presentations can be used to evaluate the overall ability of a school and its staff, but I think that there is more to performing an adequate school evaluation than the application of some rather broad labels (though they were a good start) and maybe the performance of students on these projects can be added to that mix.
By the way, the article also points out that the symposium was hosted by the Coalition of Essential Schools, who have promoted innovative pedagogy throughout the country for many years. CES is affiliated with a few schools in Rhode Island and a whole host of public and charter schools in various states.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
15 years ago

How can this be happening? Rhode Island public education?????
Everything I’ve read on AR is how Rhode Island NEA union and teachers have been sucking the tax money blood out of the taxpayers and leaving the children to wallow in non education fodder, low test scores and no usable education to support them in the business world.

15 years ago

Little bit of an overstatement there Ken, I provide links within this post to other AR posts that point out positive developments. But hey, I’ll admit we do rail against the unions, primarily for two reasons:
1) Salary and benefits don’t reflect current market conditions nor do they seem in-line with the overall performance we are getting from the students.
2) Unions are inherently resistant to change and innovation.
I won’t re-hash the first, except to say that if student performance is indeed improving as implied by this story, then the pay-for-performance argument may very well shift.
As for the second, keep in mind that this requirement came from the top down (McWalters) because of even higher pressure exerted by NCLB. He sketched out where he wanted schools to go and left it up to the schools and districts from there. But its my understanding that instituting the new standards of practice required to facilitate these new requirements had to be negotiated with the unions first.
That being said, I was trying to point out that there IS good news regarding RI education. I thought it was rather implicit that it meant teachers were kinda, sorta part of that positive development too.

William Felkner
15 years ago

As a school board member, we were given a presentation on the portfolios. Basically, it is a digital folder that holds examples of each desired skill the student is required to master. IHMO, this does not mean the skill is mastered.
The student can go back to any point and find an example of where they had done well in that particular skill – then put that example in the portfolio. They are also allowed to re-do previous work so it complies to the requirements of “proficiency.” They don’t master the skill; they only have to document a single instance where they performed the skill to grade level.
As for test scores – current law says that the test can count for “no more than 10 percent” of the graduation requirements. This is how we graduate 96% of students when only 22% can pass a math test (“proficiency” means getting 40 out of 64 questions right (62.5%). There is a move to increase the weight of the tests for graduation requirments to “at least 33 percent”

15 years ago

Bill, thanks for the elaboration. Is a portfolio different than a Capstone project (like the ones described in the Globe article)?

William Felkner
15 years ago

Nope, same thing. The porfolio is the capstone project in Chariho.

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.