In recent weeks I’ve observed a growing conversation about how best to advance both character education and the learning of 21st century skills.
What is increasingly widely recognized is the idea of backward design: that we can promote learning of our intended outcomes if we put greater emphasis on our assessment of these intentions. Students know what to strive for, and teachers over time find themselves giving greater attention teaching and having students demonstrate the things upon which teachers know they’ll have to assess and report.
The recent New York Times Magazine cover story, What if the Secret of Success is Failure?, tells the story of two schools in New York City working to develop a clear set of intended character outcomes for their students. At one school, KIPP, they embedded these outcomes in a formal report card element, highly quantified and if I understand correctly, a part of the permanent record.
[KIPP] started working to turn it into a specific, concise assessment that he could hand out to students and parents at KIPP’s New York City schools twice a year: the first-ever character report card.
At the other school, Riverdale Country School, the school was avoiding formalizing the character goals into a formal report card, in part because of concerns that students would “game the system” if it became high stakes, and so instead they were working to find ways to bring these character goals into the culture of the school.
“I have a philosophical issue with quantifying character,” [Riverdale Head of School Dominic Randolph] explained to me one afternoon. “With my school’s specific population, at least, as soon as you set up something like a report card, you’re going to have a bunch of people doing test prep for it. I don’t want to come up with a metric around character that could then be gamed. I would hate it if that’s where we ended up.”
We here at St. Gregory believe we are seeking and finding a middle ground between Riverdale and KIPP in our approach to a character and also 21st century skills report card supplement. This has been a central thrust of our efforts in the past three years to elevate the importance of and the development of these skills in our program, and to better fulfill our mission to promote and cultivate in our students Character, Scholarship, Leadership and Innovation. Our approach has been to develop a KIPP like report card for these qualities, but use it as a formative guide for students to self-assess, collect feedback from their teachers, and set goals with their advisers, rather than as a high stakes summative assessment which would then be “gamed.” (more…)