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.