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Lorien Wood’s Approach to Assessment, Grading and Standardized Tests

At Lorien Wood, we believe that children are whole persons, made in the image of God, endowed with gifts from His hand, and beset by the weaknesses common to humanity. Therefore, we approach the evaluation of children’s academic, intellectual, social, spiritual and physical progress at school from a holistic and redemptive perspective that keeps this view as foundational to our consideration of them.

When assessing skill level, we are also interested in the degree of effort demonstrated by the child in pursuit of that skill. When assigning grades in Forms One through Watershed, we use broad categories to designate the students’ understanding as displayed in their oral and written work, their individual and group projects, and their artistic endeavors. Those broad categories are, by design, generally determined not primarily by quantitative data (as generated by quizzes, tests, percentage or point systems, although a teacher may utilize any of these), but are informed by the teachers’ qualitative evaluations of the child’s progress and abilities. These evaluations are based on close daily observation, peer and teacher editing workshops, student/teacher conferencing, individuals’ contributions to group projects, oral and written work, and other evidence of academic progress.

This approach continues in the Middle School years, but is augmented by the gradual addition of more traditionally recognized grades. At no time will our philosophy of assessment be reduced to the typical reliance on numeric scales based on percentages or points, but rather these culturally familiar means of assessment will be explicitly taught to Watershed students beginning in the final trimester of the 6th grade, with gradual inclusion through the 7th and 8th grades along with Lorien Wood’s preferred practices.

Our goal is to equip our maturing students for a system that all will encounter at some point, either in the high schools they attend post-Lorien Wood, or in their college work, or in the culture at large, as “A’s,” “B’s,” C’s,” “D,’s” and even “F’s” are deeply ingrained in our cultural context. A secondary goal is to aid subsequent schools in understanding our evaluation of a student’s progress and skill level, to help build a bridge between two very different educational approaches and make our assessments more easily understood.

The goal first named, that of equipping our students, is of far more importance than the latter. We will explicitly teach our students what the typical grading systems are comprised of; their usefulness and their pitfalls; how to approach tests, papers and projects which will be evaluated in this way; how to approach teachers who evaluate in this way; how to effectively construct quizzes and tests on material to be assessed; and also the character issues inherent in competitive ranking and comparison with others. Lorien Wood teachers of Watershed and Form Four classes will receive specific training and practice in how to fruitfully employ increasing levels of traditional grading, with a deep commitment to maintaining our educational philosophy’s emphasis on the whole person even through the Middle School years.

To sum up, at Lorien Wood the K-5th graders will receive the following grades on report cards : “S” indicating a secure grasp of the material as evidenced by the ability to independently apply knowledge in new situations and generate academic work that goes beyond the mere acquisition of information; “D”  indicating a developing ability to do the above, with some growing independence in use of knowledge and information; “B” indicating a beginning understanding of material, with much dependence on teacher support; and finally, “NE” indicating that while skills and information have been thoroughly taught, there is not yet any evidence of their acquisition or employment on the part of the student.

During the third trimester of the Watershed year, students will explicitly be taught how traditional grading systems work. They will have guided practice in approaching work which will be traditionally graded, and walked through the components of doing assignments, understanding their assessment structures, and re-working some of them to attain a higher degree of skill as evidenced by a “higher grade.” Some assignments will be evaluated using a traditional grading system. Most will continue to be graded in accordance with our Lorien Wood philosophy as previously described. The Watershed report card will be identical to those used in Forms One through Three, using the grades “S,” “D,” “B” and “NE,” but some of the academic work assessed will have been done so via a traditional grading structure.

In Form Four, teachers will gradually increase the number of assignments that will be graded traditionally. They will continue, however, to evaluate the whole child primarily by methods in keeping with our educational philosophy. Report cards will for the first time show trimester grades in the more traditional form of “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D.” We will use our preferred “NE” in lieu of the traditional “F,” and this “NE” will be accompanied by the necessity of remedial work in order to achieve academic credit leading to graduation from Lorien Wood. The Form Four report card will continue the assigning of effort grades and evaluation of character habits as in previous Forms.

In Form Three, Watershed, and Form Four, students annually take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or a similar nationally recognized standardized test. In Form Three, the tests will be preceded by several weeks of formal test preparation sessions for the purpose of familiarizing students with the format of these timed and very structured tests. Thereafter, we will assume that students have become familiar with standardized tests and we will not engage in specific test prep.

Scores from the standardized tests will be made available both to classroom teachers and to parents, and a copy kept in the students’ permanent records. They will not, however, be used to determine grades on report cards, nor will they be used to evaluate teacher performance, nor will they be used to make curricular decisions in any given year. Our expectation is that the cumulative scores, over some numbers of years, may give insight on patterns that may inform curricular decisions. However, we expect that data to be inadequate for indicating curricular change from one year to the next and will not use it for that purpose.

Finally, Lorien Wood will not advertise or promote our school to prospective families by using test score data, as that is counter to our emphasis on educating the whole child and cultivating a school culture of redemptive discipleship.