Testamania Running Wild – Designing and Implementing Equitable Assessment Practices Around Innovative Instruction

“Ladies and gentlemen, this contest is set for one fall. To my left, hailing from the first floor supplies room, weighing in at .006 pounds, standing at 11 inches tall, can only be used with a #2 pencil, and scored with a Scantron machine; Bubbles the Answer Sheet! And its opponent, hailing from all conceivable parts of your imagination, weighing in at a size to be determined, can be used with pencils, pens, crayons, markers, paper, glue, all and any conceivable materials, assessed and graded using all 5 human senses; P.B. Ella!”

Can assessment be designed to be efficient, equitable and effective to better evaluate, provide feedback and track the success and learning gaps of students? As an education leader I often ask myself, “how can I better support this practice thoughtfully and compassionately,” in order to scale our efforts schoolwide, putting the odds in favor of the students while supporting and respecting the faculty. Where traditional assessment practices remain and no growth and innovation has occurred, a school’s assessment philosophy and system of practice can work against the most well-intentioned instructional design. Assessment architecture is an often overlooked step of the education reform process, and can even serve as the limiting factor of a school’s success at implementing meaningful systemic change.  At Staten Island Technical High School in order to realize the philosophy and instill in our students the belief that “failure IS an opportunity, and NOT a final measurement,” the instructional and assessment design had to be reimagined in concert, using a gradual and organized process. 

Our goal was to create a generative and equitable practice around the idea of operationalizing gracious, safe and productive failure as an integral part of the learning process. We have adopted and implemented mastery-based learning and alternative assessment practices, where the “one and done” mantra has been replaced with, “one and some.” In my previous article on “Restorative Assessment” I presented in detail how we steadfastly transitioned away from the traditional assessment approach for project-based learning, student portfolios and traditional assessment practices (where necessary) re-designed around multiple-opportunities. In this article, I will go deeper and spend more time focusing and showcasing our efforts around Project Based Learning and Alternative Assessment practices that have worked for our school community. 

Staten Island Technical High School’s unique culture is shaped and achieved through creating malleable systems of mastery-based learning and assessment practices. We carefully identify and curate the most sought-after memorable moments of high school, college, & career, and amplify/bring guided access to those experiences.   As early as a freshman year, students are given personalized choices allowing them to select specialized classes and engage in internships.  This student-centered approach embodies accessibility; removing the need to wait and navigate complex admissions merit-based systems, eliminating unintended barriers.  Our NYS-CTE certified STEAM Engineering program is embedded alongside the four-core, along with daily health-and-physical-education, music, performing arts, and a rich Russian-language curriculum.  Student voice & choice, multiple-opportunities, and project/work-based learning experiences via our Makerspace and Career & Technical Education STEAM program across all subject areas are pivotal components that creates equity, leading to student success. These efforts are accomplished in tandem with our Career Development Center, which provides internships and an ongoing career exploration series (bit.ly/NASSPB2B) to connect content & skills to careers. This multi-tiered approach allows us to create learning environments that are truly differentiated, based upon a growth-mindset, and fosters innovation, putting the benefit in favor of the student.  Students in this model are genuinely and authentically motivated to achieve the academic rewards that await in school & life, while also applying relevant skills in school, home, social and workplace settings.


The implementation of project-based learning and student portfolios has been a successful journey that started in 2016, when we created our MakerSpace, a Hi-Tech, Lo-Tech, No-Tech learning space to engage our students and teachers across the curriculum in thinking beyond the classroom to prepare students for today’s global marketplace. The makerspace (bit.ly/NASSPMakerSpace) setting has served as an immersive learning environment and alternative to supplement the classroom environment to execute creative, innovative, and meaningful project-based learning modalities. Beyond the makerspace, other innovative PBL activities have been carefully planned with intentional checkpoints, feedback and a revision process before due dates and the resubmission process. Curating our student’s finished work, both tangible and digital via shareable web-based portfolios has also created an invaluable sense of pride and a process for memorializing and showcasing students’ progress, creativity and critical thinking.


It’s important to build into your design a method by which your student’s work can live beyond a report card or progress report where only a grade remains. What can be more powerful than the ultimate display of the partnership between our students and teachers through the development of a cross-curricular student portfolio. The portfolio we’re developing is a work product collective that spans the individualized and personalized experience of the student, across various curriculum over four years. At Staten Island Tech, the presentation is inclusive of earned industry level certifications along the journey, and unique Work-Based Learning experiences that demonstrate mastery of learned content and applied skills that colleges and workforce partners indicate as necessary in the competitive workplace. (bit.ly/NASSPPortfolio) We’re piloting www.trovvit.com/ which is a promising and innovative new platform to create a safe space for students to collect and curate their work exemplars, and best moments in a Social Media like environment, that mimics LinkedIn and allows students to showcase and promote their best selves as they develop their brand and identity.  bit.ly/TrovvitTweetSITHS  


To organize and support our work at the teacher level, our UFT Teacher Center is dedicated to creating a collaborative work environment where educators come together for professional learning, sharing of best practices, one-on-one and small group coaching. (bit.ly/NASSPPPDS) Throughout the year, the UFTTC offers Continuing Teacher and Leader Education accredited professional development opportunities for educator enrichment, and also provides a multitude of technology and professional resources which can be referenced by educators to enhance their practice. (bit.ly/NASSPUFTTchrCenter) Our teachers are innovative artisans within their fields, and receive tremendous inspiration and support from our professional-development team, which consists of three Peer Collaborative Teachers via our UFT Teacher Center. (bit.ly/NASSPMasteryCRE) Each of our Peer Collaborative Teachers specialize in specific instructional areas: Ed Tech, Makerspace, PBL, CRSE, Mastery, Assessment and our CTE Coordinator manages the booking of our Makerspace for year round use.


As a part of our school’s instructional focus, incorporation of 21st-Century Global Skills and shifts towards Mastery and CRE practices cultivate independent learning experiences.  Through open participation of teachers and their willingness for school leadership to video-record authentic learning moments in their classrooms, we have created a repository that captures and showcases teacher best-practices and student work-products.  The video library, shared via social-media, celebrates and emphasizes our teachers’ work as dynamic-active learners and practitioners of these shifts. 

Using the video library, shared via Social Media, let’s take a look at some powerful examples of how our Makerspace has been utilized across disciplines to create rich, equitable and engaging Project Based Learning experiences with voice and choice for our students. Note: The PBL’s below all had project specific rubrics and feedback and  revisionary process along way embedded in the instructional and assessment design.





Mr. Henriques employs dynamic Mastery Based Group Assessments for his Robotics students using a Class Based Progress Leaderboard posted at all times for full transparency to encourage students to inquire with one another as part of the collaborative and communicative learning process. (Academic Grading Policy)


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