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CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.

Rebuilding Somerville High School

Redesigning a high school model from the ground up is no small task, but that’s exactly what Somerville High School is doing, thanks in part to a grant from the Barr Foundation. Since 2017, the high school has been going through a re-visioning and redesign process that centers the school in equity and allows students to have authentic, meaningful educational experiences.

Somerville High School, a member of the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment (MCIEA), was awarded the grant while participating in performance assessment professional development through MCIEA. It was a perfect opportunity to rebuild the high school on all fronts.

“We really had the chance to develop more progressive academic programming for our new high school that was in the process of being built,” says Mariana Hosking, a science teacher at Somerville High School and MCIEA cohort 2 participant.

These opportunities melded into a united series of goals focused on developing the school’s capacity to design performance assessments, developing out-of-school learning opportunities for all students, and providing more personalized education.

“With a diverse population [at Somerville High School], it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. We wanted students to have different ways to demonstrate what they know and what they can do,” notes Hosking.

Somerville developed a performance-based assessment subcommittee to attend MCIEA institutes and bring performance assessment professional learning back to the rest of the school. There, a committee of five administrators, eight teachers, and two parents worked together to brainstorm a process for bringing performance assessments to Somerville High School. Using learning from MCIEA institutes, the team created a school-wide definition of a performance-based assessment.

Around the same time, Somerville High School began to develop a graduate profile titled the Habits of the Somerville High School Graduate. The profile includes 8 habits in all, each of which features a series of sub-skills that Somerville educators believe are the most important 21st-century skills students should know when they graduate.

“Our vision was that performance-based assessments would really be the vehicle for allowing students to learn about and practice those 21st-century skills that we wanted them to graduate,” says Hosking.

Somerville High School continued its participation in MCIEA, with teachers from all subject areas now participating in institutes. During the 2018/2019 school year, Somerville High School science teachers set a goal to implement one performance assessment in each class. MCIEA teachers hosted professional development workshops and guided fellow educators through common planning time as teachers worked to design and implement their new performance assessments. In December of the same year, all of the science teachers presented their performance assessments from the first semester. Following successful department-wide implementation, science teachers at Somerville High School are using the Quality Performance Assessment Grading Calibration Protocol to ensure grading practices are consistent while developing new assessments for the remainder of the school year.

What do these performance assessments look like? 10th-grade science students conducted a study in the first semester to find out if the state of Massachusetts was doing enough to protect the water supply in schools. Students tested a number of water sources around Somerville High School, gathering data and comparing contaminant levels. Students then read articles about how water was tested in a variety of different Massachusetts schools. The 10th graders were then asked to write a paper defending their opinion on whether or not they believed the state was doing enough.

“It was just interesting for kids to learn about this in the scope of thinking about Flint, Michigan,” explains Hosking. “They started the unit by watching a documentary about Flint, Michigan, so they could put into context the importance of this work. We all felt that the kids were much more engaged in this assignment, it felt much more relevant, and that kids were just passionate about learning how science directly applies to their lives.”

Not only was the performance assessment seated in a real-world context, but it was also multi-disciplinary. Science teachers sat down with members of the English and Social Studies departments to align their practices around how students should go about writing a research paper.

In the future, teachers want to elaborate on that cross-departmental collaboration.

“We've also talked about the students reading the articles in their English class, and doing the lab portion in their science class, and then working on developing their paper or a presentation collectively between both departments,” says Hosking. “That's something we're all very, very interested in doing.”

Moving into the new school year, Somerville High School has a four-year implementation plan to ensure performance assessments are at the core of every classroom.

2020: Every teacher in every department implements at least one performance assessment that's aligned to the habits of the graduate profile.

2021: Begin to use portfolios where every student uploads and documents the PBAs that they do over the course of their time at the high school. 9th and 10th-grade students will present their portfolios at the end of the year to their families and their advisors.

2022: Implement a junior gateway project in addition to the portfolios. Juniors will create a formal proposal for an out of school learning experience that they plan to do senior year.

2023: First graduating class of students that have had four years of performance assessments. School will host a senior exhibition night where students share how they've acquired the habits of the graduate through performance assessments and out of school learning experiences.

With a portfolio of performance assessments and a four-year plan well underway, Somerville High School is looking forward to a future of full performance assessment implementation. However, that achievement will be hard-earned. It is tough work, that requires a serious time commitment from all teachers. Hosking notes that the biggest challenge to the work has been finding time for teachers to get together to align their work and plan collaboratively. Still, it will be worth it in the end.

“It's just been so worthwhile to see the increase in student engagement. It is absolutely worth taking on the hard work,” Hosking reflects. “The biggest piece of advice I would say comes from providing enough common planning time for teachers to really to be able to design and assess things together. And then to reflect on them and improve them.”

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