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Luskin: A Good Education

Last month, I sat on a Senior Roundtable at The Compass School to assess a high school senior’s bid for graduation.

Compass is an independent school in Westminster, designed to provide a personalized and responsive education for middle and high school students through an innovative, real-world curriculum.

I’d never met the student before, nor any of the other members of the committee, which included the student’s mother, two other community members, faculty, staff and classmates who gathered to read this student’s portfolio.

As I was to learn, this was no pro-forma ritual, but a significant and final threshold a senior must cross to graduate. The committee would determine whether this senior would pass, pass with conditions or be asked to present again.

For most of an hour, the room was silent as the ten of us read the portfolio, which the student had compiled to demonstrate her knowledge of Humanities, Science and Technology, Foreign Language and Math. The portfolio also had to demonstrate her competence in Communication, Critical Thinking, Community Involvement and Personal Development.

Committee members from the school’s community clearly had the advantage over me. They were familiar with the courses the student had taken, the projects she’d engaged in, and her personal and intellectual growth over the past four years.

I had no such advantage, and in reading the portfolio, I was simultaneously learning about the candidate and about Compass School. I was impressed by both.

What I found most remarkable was the depth of the candidate’s self-assessment and the commitment on the part of Compass to foster the whole learner.

At the end of the reading period, we had an opportunity to question the candidate about her work. She was remarkably poised, spoke thoughtfully, even admitting uncertainty – a rare thing for anyone in the hot seat, let alone a high school senior at the top of her game.

The student then left the room and the committee deliberated. Evidently, this student’s portfolio deviated from the usual format, and there was some discussion about the pros and cons of such non-conformity. Then it was my turn, as someone who had no prior expectations, to speak up and share what I saw.

What I saw was a process much more meaningful than could ever be entirely reflected in a grade point average or test score. I saw an alternative to the current troubling shift toward educational standards measured exclusively by tests administered by an expanding - and expensive - bureaucracy. I saw a school that accepts students of all abilities, and for the same cost as public school tuition, promotes the very best kind of learning by teaching students both how to learn and how to think.

What I saw was a composed eighteen year old young woman who had learned not just how to read and write, but how to think for herself and how to put knowledge to work through community service. What I saw, was a high school graduate ready to step into the world.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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