People often ask how Montessori schools handle assessment, grading, and testing (standardized or otherwise). While the Montessori method has clear guidelines regarding testing, each school incorporates those guidelines differently.
Assessment at Kingsley
Everything a student does at Kingsley is part of their assessment. Our experienced Montessori educators are practiced in creating learning plans; observing and tracking student progress; and directing students in constructive ways, while allowing them freedom of choice. As students grow older, assessments become more structured, allowing for students to better display the variety of skills and knowledge they've internalized.
Early Childhood Assessment
In the Early Childhood Division our approach to assessment depends on a thoughtfully prepared classroom environment, and formative observations by teachers throughout each day. This results in detailed record-keeping, which informs everything from what lessons to present and which classroom materials to emphasize, to how to approach goal-setting and progress reports.
Formative observations by our teachers occur in-the-moment and offer vital information to assess where a child is developmentally, and what skills they have or have not yet mastered. This can occur both while a teacher is giving a lesson and when taking the time to step back and observe.
During these moments, teachers can determine what motivates a child in the classroom, whether that child is choosing challenging work, and what area of the classroom a child is particularly drawn to. Teachers can also determine if a child is ready for a new lesson or material after mastering a specific work.
It is important to also remember that while there is a scope and sequence to the Montessori materials in your child’s classroom, we know that children will work at their own pace with support from teachers and peers to help motivate and guide them along the way.
A three-period lesson is one way our Early Childhood teachers are able to both teach nomenclature (vocabulary) and assess the child’s level of understanding. Three-period lessons are a vital part of the Montessori methodology, especially at this level. These lessons includes the following three periods:
Period 1: Naming
This is the first introduction to a new material. Teachers take time to slowly label the item.
During this period, it is important to always isolate the desired material and to repeat the words several times while pointing to the appropriate item or card.
Period 2: Association/Recognition
This period is often a separate lesson, done after the first-period lesson. Its purpose is to extend the handling and action presented in the first lesson. This is the most critical period and generally lasts the longest.
During the second period the teacher has the opportunity to review and reinforce vocabulary as well as see what connections the child has made. This is the first time the teacher will ask the child to name the object or idea.
Period 3: Recall
This period happens when the teacher is sure that the child will succeed at recalling their vocabulary. The recall period determines the child’s understanding and what information has been absorbed. This may come some time after the second period lesson, as mastery often takes time. The second period can always be revisited if more time is needed to be successful.
Recording and Documentation
Once teachers obtain this valuable information through formative observation, it is then recorded and documented for assessment purposes.
The type of record keeping used by Kingsley teachers varies, but the information recorded is always used to inform decisions on what materials are thoughtfully added or removed from the prepared environment, and how students should be directed going forward. This lets teachers know what lessons a child may be ready for next, and what skills and concepts have been mastered.
This is also the information used to create goals with the students in the Fall, and how teachers are able to track progress of those goals to share with parents at parent-teacher conferences.
When determining the skill level in a particular area of development, teachers will always consider the individual child first, taking into account that every child learns at a unique pace, when measured alongside our Early Childhood Benchmarks.
Through intentional and individualized assessment, every child leaves the Early Childhood Division with foundational skills that have been fostered, documented, and communicated clearly so that parents, teachers, and most importantly the students, will continue to build upon that success during their time at Kingsley.
Notes from the Classroom
A few reminders from the Early Childhood Faculty:
- Every child is different
- We focus on the process not the product
- We follow the child
Assessment in Elementary
During Lower Elementary, our students are increasingly exposed to more abstract concepts, and more rigorous forms of assessment. Classroom teachers carefully monitor the students’ work selection in order to ensure that students are consistently growing their skill sets in all areas of the curriculum. The program represents what Dr. Montessori referred to as materialized abstraction, meaning that all concepts are presented with the most concrete materials first, and then with increasingly abstract materials as students mature intellectually.
Abstraction and Assessment
We use a number of well-researched assessment tools to determine if students are progressing through these stages of development. One such tool is the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System (F&P) for identifying a student's reading progress along a gradient of text levels over time. The classifications (instructional reading level and independent reading level) are used to inform instruction and create leveled reading groups. Furthermore, the levels serve as a guide in choosing independent reading books and informing instruction.
There are many different types of assessments that are used in the Elementary levels—some on a regular basis and some in more isolated instances—but they all serve this same purpose. As we tell our students: "Assessments show me what you know so that I know what I need to teach you next." Kingsley students understand this, and internalize this idea when faced with different forms of assessment.
Formal and Informal Assessment
We use a combination of formal and informal assessments in Upper Elementary. For example, during literature circles, teachers informally assess through the use of discussion. A student’s answer to a specifically designed question such as, “How has this character changed throughout these first five chapters?” gives the teacher information about the student's ability to think critically at a high level.
Based on this information, the teacher is able to make a determination about what lesson needs to come next.
One of the ways we assess student writing in Upper Elementary is through the use of rubrics. These rubrics are provided to the student at the onset of a major writing assignment and set expectations for the elements, craft, plot, and mechanics of a particular writing piece.
Relevant lessons are taught throughout the duration of these ongoing writing assignments, and are assessed through the use of these rubrics. This process gives teachers information about how well a student is able to apply what is learned during class, in their own writing.
Many types of assessments are used in math. Once a week students complete a Math Minute to assess progress on fact fluency. These assessments become progressively more challenging as predetermined levels of mastery are achieved.
Students have math workbooks and complete classwork assignments that give teachers daily feedback about student progress, and inform instructions for the next class. Students benefit from the use of assessments as a way to get feedback from teachers about their own learning.
We also use summative chapter pre- and post-assessments. Ideally, the assessment process is iterative. Information is gathered from a pre-assessment to inform instruction, a post-assessment measures progress towards learning objectives from a unit, and then reteaching occurs if necessary. Students have an opportunity to learn from mistakes made on assessments and correct them, reinforcing the idea that assessments are opportunities for learning.
Once a year, students in Grades 3-6 take a formal standardized assessment, known as the ERB. This test, and the results derived from it, serve as another piece of data for us to consider about an individual child. This test also gives us valuable information on a standardized scale which allows us to observe trends; develop relevant and effective programming; and identify areas of strength and areas for growth in our community.
As we are constantly striving to improve upon what we’re doing, this assessment serves a valuable purpose to our school. It also helps us ensure that our students are achieving at a level that is competitive with other independent schools. Historically and currently, Kingsley students do very well on the ERB. Across the board, individual student scores always increase from third to sixth grade. This is an indication that, although we do not teach to the test, our content and pedagogical approach prepare students to perform competitively well on standardized assessments.
The use of the ERB also helps prepare our students to take the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE). The ISEE test is taken in Sixth Grade by students interested in placement in our local independent schools or Boston Exam schools, as their next school.
Just as content that appears on the exam is embedded into our regular curriculum throughout the years, test-taking strategies are also woven into regular classroom instruction. These strategies help teach students time management and critical thinking skills that will be useful to them during test-taking, and for the rest of their lives. Kingsley Sixth Graders consistently perform very well on the ISEE. They also go on to be highly successful in their next schools.
Prepared, Capable, and Successful
Our comprehensive approach to teaching and assessments—including the use of a variety of assessments, the cultivation of critical thinking skills, as well as the agency each child feels for his/her own learning—translates to a child who is prepared, and capable of achieving success on assessments and in schools beyond Kingsley. Our primary goal in Upper Elementary is to serve as the bridge between our students' Kingsley experience and their next school. Intentionality with our assessments is just one of the ways we are able to do this.
Montessori assessment may not look like "traditional" school assessment, but it is a detailed, rigorous, and personalized process for each student. As students age, they are faced with more rigid structures, and eventually take part in the same standardized tests that their peers in other schools complete. Kingsley students consistently perform well on these types of assessment, but also understand that there are many other important ways to display what they know.