Learning Life: Student assessment methods vary style to style

Jan. 07, 2013 @ 09:43 AM

Melissa Edwards has no use for grades.

The Chatham County mother homeschools her two children, Henry and Scarlett. She doesn’t give them As, Bs or Cs in the subjects they’re studying. She doesn’t need to, she said.

“When you only have two students, it’s easy to assess day-to-day what they are understanding or not understanding, and to fix it immediately,” Edwards said. “Also, we can ‘hang’ on any sticking point until it’s resolved or move quickly through easily understood material.”
That doesn’t mean the lives of North Carolina homeschool students are assessment-free, however. At the end of each school year, the state’s Division of Non-Public Education requires Edwards to administer a nationally standardized test.

“So, I have those scores to guide me to some extent,” she said. “Although I put very little stock and faith in these tests, they may help identify weak areas.”

Bella Cude, who attends the private Duke School in Durham, also goes through the year without grades – but, like Henry and Scarlett, she gets feedback.

“We have parent-teacher conference in the fall (late October), where we hear an initial progress report, and then we get a written report after the end of each semester,” said Bella’s mother, Susie Bird.

Cameron McNeill, a junior at Riverside High School, experiences more traditional assessments as a Durham Public Schools student.

“They are assessed in a variety of ways,” said Jackie Tobias, Riverside’s principal. “Class projects, quizzes, class presentations, district assessments, state assessments, departmental assessments and national assessments. You name it, we have it.”

Every nine weeks, students receive report cards to take home. Some classes provide online access to grades.

DeVon Eaddy, a freshman at the new Research Triangle High School (a public charter school), faces similar measurements of his progress.

Research Triangle gives all assessments that a more traditional public school does, said Principal Eric Grunden.

“Our teachers and school are evaluated using the same standards that all public schools in North Carolina do – meeting growth or high growth, for example,” Grunden said. “We evaluate our teachers using the same system that all public schools do.”

Students at RTHS also get pre- and post-assessments in each subject “so that we can show individual growth across the year, for example,” he said. Furthermore, they look at skills such as critical thinking and professionalism that are rarely measured.

So how are the Learning Life students doing so far this year?

Edwards is happy with how her children are faring so far. “I think they’re doing really well,” she said. “The curriculum is challenging, yet they are getting through it with understanding, and critical thought discussions are frequent.

“Recently, Scarlett had a nice breakthrough on Ancient Egypt/Current Egyptian issues. I was proud to hear her not only connecting the two, but doing it on her own with her own ideas.”

She described Henry as “a natural academic” who “just plows through all material with excellence, regardless of his interests.” Scarlett struggles with mathematics, but uses a program called Thinkwell to ease the frustration and aid her progress.

Michelle Reich, sixth grade math teacher at Duke School, praised Bella Cude’s progress.

“Bella is a very strong student,” Reich said. “She is very motivated to do well and works at a high level in all of her subject areas. She is organized, gets all of her work in on time and it is very well done.

“Along with her being a serious student, Bella is very creative and uses this in her writing and her project work.”

Cameron McNeill’s mother, Diana, credited her son’s work ethic and his teachers at Riverside for his progress.

“Cameron has done extremely well in school this year so far,” she said. “He has some amazing teachers at Riverside who challenge him and are preparing him well for college courses.”

He’ll soon be looking at colleges. She’s counting on all his hard work to pay off by giving him a lot of universities from which to choose.

Tanaka Eaddy, DeVon’s mother, keeps track of her son’s grades online. He has fared well in biology, civics, English, physical education and drama, but has struggled some with mathematics, where he hopes to take his C up to a B or an A by year’s end.

“He said that the teachers really show that they care and it makes him want to do better,” Tanaka Eaddy said. “The teachers are good about letting him make up work if it is missing. Teenagers are forgetful at times. I know that the teachers want him to succeed.”

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