PBL + Standardized Test Results = ?

August 20, 2011 at 10:21 AM 1 comment

California tests on 8th grade physical science standards with multiple choice tests. The questions tend to be recall-based or a quantitative use of math skills. There are no questions relating to issues and relevance to real life, so it’s pretty much the opposite emphasis to a project based curriculum.

I often felt guilty for not teaching to the test during last year’s 8th grade PBL experiment with the Problems with Oil Project, the Sports Project, the Egg Head Helmet Challenge, Build Bits of Bridges” challenges and The Great Carbon Race. The projects were all tied to standards, but they did add significant time for extra skills and topics.

Orinda Union School District 8th grade STAR test scores for 8th grade went from 88% proficient or above last year, to 95% this year.

It’s big enough to be significant. There will be many factors playing in to that, including the excellent preparation in science students had from their prior teachers, the quality of instruction in the other 8th grade science classroom, and the impact of their other teachers in 8th grade – ELA and math skills and electives skills definitely spill over into science.

Why did they achieve so well? Perhaps it’s because students saw meaning in what they were doing, which might improve engagement. Perhaps linking concepts to their every day lives made for a more durable and deeper understanding. Maybe practice with applying concepts to new situations made them more able to solve novel problems on the STAR test. I don’t know for sure, but I am glad that I didn’t mess up their academic achievement, which is still and always will be, the foundation of useful innovation.

Project Based Learning AND improved standardized tests, even in a privileged population like ours. Cool on so many levels. I’m surprised, grateful, relieved and inspired.

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Entry filed under: Policy, Project Based Learning, Reflections. Tags: , .

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