Assessment at International High School

K-12 Testing

by David Hirschy, Kathleen Rugger, Eric Nadelstern and John Stevenson

The International High School (IHS) at LaGuardia Community College was founded in 1985 as a joint venture of the Board of Education and the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York. An alternative school, IHS admits only students of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) who have been in the United States fewer than four years. Students remain at the school for the rest of their high school years. The curriculum is taught with an English as a Second Language (ESL) content-based approach. At the same time, students have the opportunity to maintain and further their native language development through native language courses, peer-mediated instructional activities, and instructional materials and textbooks in the native languages.


The school's philosophy holds that LEP students must acquire the ability to understand, speak, read and write English with near-native fluency to realize their full potential within an English-speaking society. At the same time, fluency in a language other than English must not be viewed as a handicap, but rather as a resource for the student, school and society. IHS also emphasizes the importance of heterogeneous groupings and school-based decision-making. Teachers are included in instructional program design, curriculum development and the selection of material.


The Motion Program

Exploring Motion is a set of connected courses which explores the concept of motion from the viewpoints of several disciplines. Students receive credit for literature, mathematics, physics, and physical education. The course is taught by a team of teachers from the faculties of International High School and LaGuardia Community College. Through a combination of individual and group work, students develop a portfolio that demonstrates their mastery of the concept of motion. Trust, collaboration, ad individual and group responsibility are reinforced in each of the classes.


The physical education component explores motion through "Project Adventure." Students engage in physical activities that encourage individual and group growth.


The literature component explores the ideas of motion, movement and change as expressed in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Students also use the writing process to produce creative writing and autobiographical work which connects these themes to the other subjects. This class supports the development of communication skills which enable students to share their feelings, emotions, and individual lives.


The math and physics component is team taught with an emphasis on collaborative experimentation that leads students to a fundamental understanding of both the motion and the mathematics involved.


The Portfolio Process

Assessment in The Motion Program is based on a portfolio of work, developed by each student, with a strong self-evaluation component, feedback and evaluation by peers, and finally teacher feedback. The final grade is determined in conference with the student, two peers, and instructors. The process of how the portfolio is developed, read, and evaluated is critical to its success.


The portfolio includes a personal statement, a mastery statement, a selection of what the student feels is his/her best work, and a self evaluation. Two other students then read the portfolio and write approximately one page of reactions to the student, evaluate the class work, the portfolio, and recommend a final mark. Two instructors read the portfolio, write reactions, and recommend marks.


The final conference lasts from five to eight minutes and concludes in assigning marks. The order of evaluation and comments during the conference is self, peer, teacher, and then self. It is a time for the student to reflect on his/her progress, for students to acknowledge areas of strength and recommend directions for change. Teachers have input and serve as a final check on the process. These conferences are often powerful catalysts for change.


In a collaborative group, self assessment happens early on and naturally. Students read their own materials individually and with others while they do activities. As they check with each other and share ideas, self assessment has already started.


Given the extremely heterogeneous nature of students and groups in the classrooms, students are encouraged to develop their personal goals and standards. They are encouraged to write their own words and communicate in their own way about the activities in progress. When activities are completed, students communicate their mastery to an instructor or to other students in order to receive credit. At this point they may have to revise or expand their work.


In the personal statement, students are encouraged to think about their progress as an individual within a group context. Competition and comparison with others is minimized as students develop internal standards as well as class standards.


In writing a mastery statement, students develop higher cognitive skills such as recontextualizing, synthesis, and abstraction. Although students may work on a portfolio together, their statements are valued as individual work. In this classroom environment, copying or using another's words is a strong taboo. Individuality, variety, and clarity of expression are valued.


The cumulative effect of the process is that students reconize the need for assessment to check and validate their progress. In this relatively public environment, students and teachers support each other in their individual growth. This is in contrast to the trauma and isolation associated with usual testing procedures. It is one of the many reasons why we abandoned testing as a means of assessment in The Motion Program. Especially for the non-traditional student, standardized testing is a flawed measurement tool or predictor of success. It often measures the language environment of the student rather than his/her learning. Results may be dependent on how well the parents speak, the level of scholarship in the school and the number of years in an English-speaking environment.


Why Portfolios Work for Students

One student student put it this way. "When I take a test, I study, I remember until the test, and then I forget it. When I do the portfolio, it is really mine, and I have it for a long time."


The portfolio process serves to encourage longer knowledge retention, higher level cognitive skills, development of internal standards and self-reliance, ability to use a wide range of resources, creativity and variety in problem solving approaches, social skills and a language-rich environment.


How do we know? The students tell us how they are doing. They come to class. They often work for extended periods, up to 2-1/2 hours, without a break. They pass their classes. In the past 1-1/2 years, over 140 students have enrolled in The Motion Program, and each one has passed all four courses.


International HS, 31-10 Thomson Ave., Long Island City, NY 11101. This article is excerpted from the School Voices special issue. To order see p. 10.