For the educators at Santa Monica Alternative School House, gauging student progress goes well beyond grades and standardized tests. They aim to take a more progressive approach to evaluating academic performance, using a variety of non-traditional methods. They even invite students to help shape the curriculum.
“Authentic assessment is such an important topic to the SMASH community,” principal Jessica Rishe said.
It’s a topic that will come into full view, literally, on Wednesday during a film screening and panel discussion about the role of assessment in student development and the pitfalls of fixating on test scores. The showing of “Beyond Measure” at ArcLight Cinemas in Santa Monica will benefit the Parent Teacher Student Association at the K-8 campus.
The viewing comes amid ongoing talks in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district about how to judge student success and improve college and career readiness.
The movie and conversation will help stakeholders “further explore how students can meaningfully demonstrate what they learn in school in collaborative, performance-based, non-competitive ways,” Rishe said.
Among the featured panelists is Pedro Noguera, a renowned educator and sociologist who has studied the effects of race and socioeconomic status on academic development. He was recently hired by SMMUSD to address longstanding achievement gaps that have persisted locally and across the country between black and Hispanic students and their peers.
But although Noguera’s work with the district will focus on equity and access, he is also interested in changing how schools evaluate students in general. His review of Vicki Abeles’ “Beyond Measure,” the book accompaniment to the film, was recently published in the New York Times.
“Abeles offers a compelling set of arguments for reconsidering how we define success in American education and for radically altering the approach we’ve taken to get there,” Noguera wrote. “High grades, high test scores and admission to one of the nation’s elite colleges have long been embraced as symbols of excellence and, by extension, successful parenting. Abeles suggests that pursuit of this narrow form of success is actually harming children and families, and distorting our educational institutions … ”
The local screening of the film arrives shortly after SMASH was included on this year’s list of 1,000 low-performing schools in the state, a registry mandated by the Open Enrollment Act. The list allows parents to transfer their children from schools on the annual list to other campuses.
School officials have contested the state designation, saying that it’s based on outdated and non-representative data. SMASH is the only SMMUSD school on the list, which relies on 2013 figures.
Founded in 1973, SMASH aims to incorporate alternative and unconventional approaches to education and assessment. Students engage in project-based learning, side-by-side reading evaluations and analyses of written work as well as mindfulness sessions and other social-emotional development exercises.
The screening event, which will run from 6 to 9:15 p.m. Jan. 27, costs $54 per person and includes food and drinks. To buy tickets, or more information, visit http://tinyurl.com/SMASHreelseries.