Authentic Assessments vs. Grades: How High Meadows Gauges Student Progress
"Good job!", "Well done!", "Way to go!" It's nice to give kids positive affirmation about their efforts and accomplishments, and they certainly derive a sense of pride when they are given kudos by adults. But what is missing in these warm-and-fuzzy everyday expressions? As nice as these words are, they don't tell a student how their work is good. Lacking specificity, they can feel vapid and inauthentic. And they don't give students any real feedback that can lead them to next-level growth.

Such specific feedback is an important element of what we call "authentic assessment," which is a hallmark of the High Meadows approach to guiding children in their academic and social growth. As you will read below, authentic assessment is not about "grading," it's about learning. And it builds in children an intrinsic motivation to succeed as a matter of true desire and curiosity, not as merely a means to earn "good grades." Authentic assessment is one way that we work to make learning- and achieving- an expression of joy at High Meadows.

Enjoy this issue,

Jay Underwood
Head of School
Kindergarten/1st grade students explore how to make a structure; interactive learning is one way teachers use to continually assess each child. 
In a progressive school like High Meadows, a child's progress is continually assessed vs. measured by periodic assignments or tests. Authen tic academic assessment methods give parents, teachers, and students common points of reference to guide continued, sustained progress. Assessment focuses on the entire learning process, not just on the final product of a unit of learning.

Teachers measure and document student growth almost daily across subject areas from academic and social/emotional standpoints to make sure each child gets the support and guidance needed to learn effectively and build on successes. This approach can have a dramatic impact on how children learn.

"In my experience, the biggest differences between grades and assessments are in how willing children are to solve problems and take risks," said Kate Stoessel, a 2nd/3rd grade teacher who has taught in both progressive and traditional education schools. "When students get grades, they need a list of what's required to get started on an assignment. They aren't willing to take risks because they don't want to get a low grade. But, without grades in the picture, they just get started, trying things and adjusting as they go."
 
2nd/3rd grade students learned about digestion through a hands-on activity, one way they practice collaboration and risk taking. 
Rather than simply checking the boxes that concepts have been  co vered, High Meadows' comprehensive authentic assessments help students identify specific areas to strengthen skills, celebrate successes, and develop stronger awareness of their abilities and potential.
 
"We are teaching skills that children will need for the 21st century," Stoessel said. "They need to learn how to problem-solve and collaborat e. They have to practice that. It can't be assessed on a test."

Feedback Shared With Parents
Teachers share feedback with parents in many ways:
  • Extensive written narrative progress reports twice a year
  • Regular parent-teacher communication opportunities
  • Student-selected portfolios for Kindergarten through Fifth grade students are presented during parent/teacher conferences to highlight the best of learning within each unit of inquiry
  • Student self-reflection check-ins (beginning in Preschool) focused on learning goals specific to each child
Stoessel noted that having conferences before narratives are sent home gives parents, teachers, and students a chance to address academic or social/emotional needs. She also shared that being in multi-age classes helps students cement their knowledge.
 
"Students benefit from having an authentic audience to share their learning," she said. "It's a higher-level thinking strategy that helps them embed it. Presenting their work to other students, people in the school community, and family members also encourages them to double check their work. All of these are skills they need for the future."
Focus on High Meadows' Guiding Principle: Children Learn and Mature in Different Ways

Children learn and mature in different ways, at different paces. Intentional blending of developmental stages within a classroom enhances each child's growth.

Engaging, Connecting, and Being in Nature: Parents Share Why They Chose High Meadows

It's common to see students of all ages at High Meadows observing, measuring, discussing, and hypothesizing both inside classrooms and outdoors. These activities help them become critical thinkers for whom learning is a natural part of their every day, at school and elsewhere. 
Parents choose High Meadows in part for opportunities for children to learn outdoors.

Parents regularly share that this type of learning is one of the reasons they selected High Meadows. They also note the emphasis on the social/emotional development of children as well as academics and learning outside in nature .

Engaging and Connecting vs. Reciting and Repeating  

"We don't believe academics and education are a race," said Trish Soganich, mom of a current sixth grader and a ninth grader alumna. "Education is about the whole child. We want to raise children of good character who are open minded and appreciate diversity of all kinds. That's a high priority for us. High Meadows matched these values, and our kids h ave thrived at the school."
 
When exploring a new school for her childre n, she liked that  High Meadows offered some similar benefits to the Montessori environment they were previously in, including mult i-age classes, the exploration of whole topics, and encouraging children to play and work in nature. 
 
Tricia Madden, mom of children in Kindergarten, fifth, and sixth grades at High Meadows, values the school's focus of empowering students to take responsibility for themselves and their own education. 
 
"As a former teacher, learning mastery vs. learning to a test is really important to me," she said. "I want my kids to learn how to put their knowledge into action to address real world issues. High Meadows provides a great focus on active learning, critical thinking, and problem solving. That fits my personal and education values."
 
Nurturing Children Through the Years
Another reason many parents note they selected High Meadows is for the nurturing environment it provides. Our school community is built around relationships and appreciation for how each individual contributes to what makes High Meadows so special. Madden agrees.
 
Students from pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade benefit from the school's sense of community and family.  
"The teachers know my kids, love them, and look out for them," she said. "My children feel the sense of 
community and family environment and benefit from that. I see the teachers follow my children's growth across grade levels and provide a safe space to grow and mature at the pace they need. They strike a great balance between accepting where kids are and challenging them to take next steps. High Meadows has exceeded my expectations, and I had high expectations coming in."

Middle Years Program Benefits Students and Parents

The words 'middle school' can prompt adults to groan as they remember their experiences during that time in their life. Despite its often less-than-complimentary reputation, middle school can offer students the opportunity to love school as well as the chance to explore new interests, build confidence, and take on leadership and mentorship roles. 

Middle Years students work with their Kindergarten/1st grade buddies to build structures in the Outdoor Living Skills mini-course.
At High Meadows, the Middle Years experience is built on strong relationships between students and teachers as well as a curriculum that gives students opportunities to practice  critical judgment, problem-solving, and self-advocacy skills.  Our students grow to embrace a sense of commitment and responsibility toward themselves, their community, and the larger world, stepping into leadership roles within the school community as mentors and role models for younger students. Students also benefit from smaller classes, customized learning opportunities and approach, time learning and playing outdoors, and regular communication with teachers. 

Smaller Classes
A private middle school like High Meadows typically has a smaller number of students in each class. This allows for more one-on-one instruction and learning time and helps students develop strong relationships with classmates and teachers. Pat Wolf,  Middle Years principal, notes that the smaller overall size of a grade level helps nurture a sense of community, belonging, and learning. Students are encouraged to model the school's values, connect with younger children through the Buddy Program, and take action within their community.

Students select mini-courses such as 3D printing to be introduced to something new or to pursue a passion. 
Approach to Learning
Smaller classes also influence how a school approaches learning and the types of courses offered. For example, High Meadows offers a variety of math classes in Middle Years to meet the varying academic needs of students.

"We make a personal investment in each child and work as a team to help them grow and have a positive school experience," Wolf said. "We look at the whole person and are sensitive to the social, emotional, and physical growth taking place in adolescents. We consider those when planning academic inquiries, allowing space for social connections and letting students make decisions about their learning."

Explore Something New or Pursue a Passion
Middle Years students enroll in a variety of electives called mini-courses which give them a wide variety of opportunities to be introduced to something new or to pursue a passion. A few mini-courses are required of all students to ensure they acquire necessary skills and exposure to technology, visual arts, performing arts, and physical education. Other courses let students develop an area of interest or explore new subjects.
Mini-courses include a variety of subjects, including calligraphy. 

Course offerings vary from year-to-year, but mainstays include debate, music/band ensembles, technology, life skills, theatre and production programs, philosophy, fine arts, product design, outdoor living skills, and yearbook staff. STEAM classes include engineering challenges, metalsmithing, environmental project, 3D Maker, knitting, and cross-stitching. This year, students can take a Small Engines course to see what engines look like, figure out how they work, and try to fix them. 

Time to Explore and Discuss
Our program also provides more time for exploration and discussion about a subject. This helps teachers coordinate lessons to build learning connections across classes.  Cross-disciplinary projects and investigations help students identify the interconnectedness of the world and people around them. As a result, High Meadows graduates are known to be exceptional critical thinkers, writers, innovators, communicators, and self-advocates.

"We want students to learn how to think abstractly and problem solve," Wolf said. "The language our teachers use is different than the approach in public school. Our teachers ask: 'What are you thinking about that topic or problem? How would you break it down?  How can you learn more about that?"

High Meadows Parent Trish Soganich saw this approach with her daughter who entered the school in seventh grade and is now a ninth grader in the STEM magnet program at Wheeler High School.
Our 6th - 8th graders can participate in a variety of Theatre Arts mini-courses.
 
"Sydney flourished during her time in the Middle Years program," Soganich said. "Socially, we could not have hoped for a better middle school transition. Through engaging conversation facilitated by teachers in every class, and on any topic, through new experiences like debate and other mini-courses, through team building activities and multiple theater experiences, she was able to broaden her horizons and also find 'her people'. It was a fabulous experience for her."

Soganich's sixth grade son is experiencing the program's benefits now. 

"Nathan's having a great time in Middle Years," she said. "We like that High Meadows expl ores topi cs and conversations that public school doesn't, letting students explore and discuss in a safe environment." 

Communication
Communication between administrators, teachers, students, and parents is often different at public and private middle schools. Bonnie Braine's son is in eighth grade at High Meadows but attended public middle school last year. She shared differences she sees between the two types of schools.

"We have much more access to and communication with teachers and administrators now," she shared. "My son regularly talks with his teachers which helps him set goals for his learning. The school also has conferences with teachers, parents, and students, which we find very valuable."

Time Outdoors
Another key difference is how much time students spend outside each day.

"It's a long day in public middle school with little time outdoors," Braine said. "Children start school early and come home late. If they participate in after-school activities, they often wind up starting homework around 8 at night. That's a tough schedule to keep day after day." 

Learn More About Middle Years
Explore the benefits of the High Meadows Middle Years program for your child on Tuesday, Dec. 11 or Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 from 9:00 - 10:00 a.m.   Contact Director of Admission Laura Nicholson to RSVP  or ask questions about the middle school program.
Apply Now for the 2019-2020 School Year

High Meadows is accepting applications for the 2019-2020 school year. Below are important dates for the Admission Process. For more information, visit https://highmeadows.org/admission/apply/  or contact Director of Admission Laura Nicholson at  lnicholson@highmeadows.org  or 678-507-1170.
  • JANUARY AND FEBRUARY 2019: Applicant visit & assessment dates scheduled for this time period
  • FEBRUARY 15, 2019: Preferred Application Deadline
  • FEBRUARY 22, 2019: Financial Aid Application Deadline
  • MARCH 1, 2019: 2018 Tax Information Deadline for Financial Aid Applicants
  • MARCH 31, 2019: Common Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools (AAAIS) Admission Notification Date
  • APRIL 11, 2019: AAAIS Response Deadline

Middle Years Students Launch 2018-2019 Theatre Arts Season With Production of Women Who Weave


The Theatre Arts deparment recently produced Women Who Weave, the first play of the 2018-2019 season. Nine 7th and 8th grade students performed in the play. They auditioned last spring, began learning their lines this summer, and started rehearsing the first day of this school year in the Fall Performance mini-course. That same day, a team of seven 6th graders also began working in the Fall Tech Theatre mini-course. They painted and built set pieces, learned to operate light and sound boards, created costumes, applied makeup, and served as backstage crew during performances. The Middle Years Theatre Arts program produces two mainstage productions each year and offers several mini-courses which may include Playwriting, Puppetry, Improv, Makeup Design, Sound Design, Intro to Technical Theatre, and Acting.
Explore High Meadows

Come Experience the Magic of High Meadows


Come visit us! Below are opportunities to explore what makes High Meadows special. RSVP through the Ravenna system or contact Director of Admission Laura Nicholson.

4th-8th Grade Open House - Tuesday, Dec. 11, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m.
Observe our 4th-8th grade classes in action, meet students and parent ambassadors, ask questions of our principals, and meet our teachers.

Preschool & Pre-Kindergarten Preview - Thursday, Dec. 13, 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.
Come spend time in our Pre-K classrooms (ages 3, 4, and young 5). Observe classes in action, meet parent ambassadors, ask questions of our principals, and meet our teachers. This event is geared towards a parent audience.

Roswell Neighborhood Reception - Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019, 6:30 - 8:00 p.m.
Come enjoy a glass of wine and tasty snacks while visiting with current High Meadows parents, teachers, and administrators at the home of Christy and Marius Nel in northwest Roswell. Get address details upon your RSVP through Ravenna or contact Director of Admission Laura Nicholson.

Kindergarten/1st Grade Open House - Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, 9:00 - 10:00 a.m.
Join us for this opportunity to observe our Kindergarten/1st grade classes and learn about their daily schedule and curriculum, and connect with teachers, principals, and HMS parents. 

Family Farm to Forest Tours - Saturday, Jan. 26, 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.
This child/family-centered introduction to our beautiful outdoor campus showcases special locations including our gardens, tire swing, and animals. All family members are welcome. Feel free bring a picnic style snack to enjoy on the meadow following the tour.
Upcoming Events
Why Does School Look Different at High Meadows?

High Meadows School encourages learning from everyone in our community and encourages conversations about what is important in education today. Join us January 15 at 9:00 - 10:30 a.m. or 6:30 - 8:00 p.m. to learn about progressive education and why school looks different at High Meadows. Get answers to questions about the purpose of education and how High Meadows aims to achieve that purpose.
Free Film Screening: Celling Your Soul - Jan. 31, 2019 

Parents and Educators - Join us Thursday, Jan. 31 from 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. for a screening of the film Celling Your Soul. 
RSVP to see this p owerful and informative examination of how our young people actual ly feel about connecting in the digital world and their love/hate relatio nship with technology. It provides empowering strategies for more fulfilling, balanced, and authentic human interaction within the digital landscape. The film reveals the effects of "digital socialization" by taking viewers on a personal journey with a group of high school and college students who, through a digital cleanse, discover the power of authentic human connectivity and that there is "No App" or piece of technology that can replace the benefits of human connection. 
OUR MISSION

The High Meadows community celebrates and perpetuates each individual's quest for knowledge and skill, sense of wonder, and connection to the natural environment. We empower each to be a compassionate, responsible, and active global citizen.

(770) 993-2940 | www.highmeadows.org
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