We do descriptive evaluations and portfolio assessments of our children in all grades. In seventh and eighth grades, children receive grades as a way of preparing them for high school.
Grades are a very poor motivator. The greatest motivation for learning is children’s innate interest in exploring new things. Children get deeply involved in their studies at the Co-op. They share their learning with one another. They come to feel that they’re expert about their studies and fields of interest.
We give students in grades 5th through 7th the Terra Nova tests. (Fourth graders take them for practice.) These are comprehensive tests that measure reading, writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation, and composition), and math. We do not spend a lot of time with test preparation; our test preparation is to show children how to think through the questions they’re being asked and to review some of the facts and skills that the tests require. Our real focus is to engage children in real learning. (Immeasurable outcomes include, for instance, the ability to collaborate, enthusiasm about a task, the ability to organize and involve others in getting a job done, compassion, understanding, looking at many sides of an issue.)
The biggest surprise for many children who’ve come from a traditional program is that our children are so friendly. They are genuinely interested in the well-being of their new classmates. They are aware of what it takes for a new person to settle in. There is an adjustment period for all children; they want to learn the new rules. But the adjustment is aided by being in a community that is there to help. We’re not a competitive community; we’re not interested in one-upping anyone. This helps new students (and parents) find a place where they are comfortable.
Teachers and students work closely together to form real partnerships in learning. Our classes are small enough that every child is well known to the teacher. Teachers discuss the child’s thinking individually and in small groups. This gives insight into each student as a learner. The teacher then plans curriculum that will stretch each child individually.