Rethinking High School: Assessment


Leadership • Curriculum • Assessment • Environment and Materials • Glossary

Web of KnowledgeOverviewAssessment ModeForms of Assessment [ FormativeRubrics • PortfoliosGradesStandardized Tests ]

Web of Knowledge

This page is but one page in a collaborative effort by Cadre 4 LinkOne as we connect similar ideas in the four books below.

The Hundred Languages of Children - Reggio (Authors: Carolyn P. Edwards (Editor))

Thinking in Jazz (Author: Paul F. Berliner)

The Long Haul (Authors: Myles Horton w/Judith and Herbert Kohn)

Rethinking High School: Best Practice in Teaching, Learning, and Leadership, Harvey Daniels, Marilyn Bizar,and Steven Zemelman, 2001, Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH.

The icons (created by Dana Collier) link to other pages that reflect some of the same ideas.


Although the place is Best Practices High School, the authors admit that their assessment practices are a work in progress and are the least innovative of their various practices. They did not consider assessment in-depth at the beginning, but started examining it four years after the school had begun as they realized they needed to look at their assessment practices in more detail.

They prefer to use authentic assessments, that is, assessments that closely mimic how professionals in the field practice their art or how people use the knowledge in everyday life. Because of this, most of their assessments are done with student-produced projects and simple tests (multiple choice, short answer, true-false) are deemphasized. For good assessment, they try to follow a twelve point model that they have adapted from another publication by two of the three authors of the book.

Twelve Point Assessment Model [Daniels and Bizar, 1998]

The twelve points of the assessment model proposed by Daniels and Bizar help guide the development of assessment at BPHS. In this model, assessment should:

  1. Become an integral part of good instruction.
  2. Focus on the major “whole outcomes” valued in the curriculum.
  3. Be formative, i.e., primarily to ensure students learn better and teachers teach more effectively.
  4. Focus on self-referenced growth measures. That is, “How have you grown?” not, “How do you compare against others?”
  5. Allow students to self-monitor and self-evaluate their progress by taking responsibility for their own record keeping and self-reflection.
  6. Take a development perspective and track the student’s individual growth rather than comparing it against age- or grade-level assessments.
  7. Provide a data base for deriving legitimate, defensible student grades when necessary. This point is necessary to tie assessment back to current grading schemes although such a grading scheme is really inimical to good assessment.
  8. be done by many different people working cooperatively using various individual and collaborative assessments.

Teachers should:

  1. Use a rich repertoire of assessment strategies for designing appropriate evaluations. 
  2. Use multiple measures that allow students' growth to be examined from several different perspectives.
  3. Reallocate their time on assessment so that the focus is not on scoring and grading, but on saving and documenting student work.
  4. Share their more sophisticated, accurate, and meaningful assessments they have developed with colleagues, parents, and administrators.

Daniels, H., and M. Bizar. 1998. Methods that Matter: Six Structures for Best Practice Classrooms. York, Maine: Stenhouse

Forms of Assessment


Formative assessments help students self-monitor, self-evaluate, and set goals for future learning. Reflection is a key component of formative assessments. Reflection helps students:

  1. Become aware of what they have learned and achieved;
  2. Evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses;
  3. Identify strategies they have used successfully and identify others that may help them in doing better;
  4. Set goals for the next unit of study.

Examples of formative assessments are the reflections that students have to write as part of their internship programs and the evaluations they do of their own portfolios.


Although there are several types of portfolios, BPHS uses portfolios as a record of growth. These portfolios can show thinking, work, and self-reflections that document the growth of the learner. This portfolio stays with the advisory teacher as students create and build it and once a quarter, each advisory spends a week reading and reflecting on their peer’s portfolios. Not only do the students get the benefit of self-reflection, but they also have insights and suggestions from their peers to help them grow and see methods that others have used successfully.

Portfolios as a final presentation bear mentioning as the authors covered the use of such portfolio at Central Park East Secondary School in New York City. There, all seniors are required to create a series of portfolios, both major and minor, as a requirement for graduation.  The students must make major presentations in seven areas, four of which must be science and technology, math, literature, and history and social studies. There, passing is dependent on a committee of teachers and outside community members. As they do not wish to stifle creativity, there is no one way to present the portfolios, but the scoring rubric uses viewpoint, evidence, connection, voice, and conventions as major criteria.


Although rubrics are fairly common in school, BPHS makes extensive use of student-created assessment rubrics. In such a rubric, the class identifies the performance to be assessed. The performance may be a final report, problem solutions, poetry creation, or an actual performance. Students view samples of the performance to get an idea of the range of they may expect to see then individually write down a list of words or phrases associated with successful performance. The whole class shares and develops a list of the words or phrases, then students in small groups group the list into a smaller number of related items. The goal is for students to continue to winnow the list until it gets to be a manageable size. Once the list is a manageable size, students determine the relative importance of each criterion they have settled on. The advantages are that the process generates discuss about what good work looks like; it help put students in charge of their own learning, and the teacher finds the assessment to be much more meaningful. Ironically, after all of this work, they still make each rubric add up to a hundred points.


In short, as much as they dislike grades, they feel they have to do them because it is “expected.” However, they bring the students into the process as much as possible, with the student-created rubrics helping them assign grades that have buy-in from the students.

Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are another assessment that they find brings more harm than good. Even though they feel that standardized tests will be around for a while, they urge schools to deemphasize standardized tests and instead focus on authentic assessments that will provide more information about the student.

Ironically, even though they don't look favorably on either standardized tests or grading, the brief video on their website only mentions these two forms.


Derrel Fincher

Images by Dana Collier © 2002 Used by Permission

Last maintained 08/23/2003


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