When Orsch first began, it had very little. It had big ideas, but little resources. It was forced to create an environment built of essentials, and nothing more. Its ideas carried it because funding could not. In those beginning days, I was often asked about standardized tests. Orsch couldn’t provide them because there were no funds to allocate to them. Funds covered pencils, and paper, and markers, and books, and a modest, bare-bones connection to the world through technology. Funds covered rent, insurance, and the few teachers willing to work for passion. Funds covered the essentials.
I was often asked how I would know that my students were progressing. I was often questioned about benchmarks and standards and how I would meet them. In the early days, my answers were geared toward individualizing for each student, and not comparing them to others, but to themselves. Answers included listening to them, and meeting their individual needs, letting them go at their own pace toward or beyond the standards. I know that those statements sounded lofty, and seemed to lack “accountability.” But, many years later, my answers are the same. And now they don’t sound lofty. They sound solid. They are what every teacher wishes to say. They are what every parent wishes to hear.
Assessing student progress is essential–a point that is widely accepted. As teachers we need confirmation that our students are progressing. We need to know that they have mastered prerequisites in order to move on. As parents, we need to know that our child’s potential, resourcefulness, and intelligence is in good hands. Administrators need to know that their teachers are effective. But, consider how many valuable avenues for assessment exist. Assessments should not be standardized. Assessments should be as varied as the students and the lessons they serve. Every effective teacher knows that assessment techniques include a broad range of tools, conversations, and products. Every trained teacher in the United States has learned of formative and summative assessments, portfolio-based, observationally-based, product-based, conversationally-based, and an Orsch favorite: engagemently-based. Did I just make up a word?
We have grown a little bit. We have almost stabilized financially thanks to a group of dedicated people who put their efforts into this endeavor. We still seek to spend our money on the essentials. Art supplies. People. Field trips. Experiences. Pencils, and paper, and markers, and books, and a little bit more of a connection with the world through technology. But, we still cannot fathom justifying the use of our resources on an assessment that means absolutely nothing to the individuals for whom we built this school. May we never have so much money that we lose sight of spending it wisely.