Laura Sandefer

April 18, 2014

First of all, be assured of one thing: you are completely qualified to assess your child’s intellectual and moral growth. No teacher certification or education degree necessary. You are smart. You are experienced. You know your child better than anyone in the universe.

At Acton, we trust you to measure how your child is progressing. We give you the questions, frameworks and data – in clear English – and you decide without the hassles and distractions of meaningless state mandated tests, arbitrary letter grades or confusing academic jargon.

Seven Acton resources that provide hard evidence of transformative growth:

  • Student Portfolios – review them in depth; ask questions; praise effort; and encourage more effort and focus.
  • Learning Exhibitions – see your Eagle’s hard work displayed to the outside world.
  • Peer Review – ask to see Eagle Peer Critiques or quiz your Eagle’s Running Partner.
  • S.M.A.R.T. goal tracking sheets – track your Eagle’s goals day by day and week by week; learn where encouragement and tough questions can help.
  • Online dashboards – analyze hard data in incredible detail, available to see 24/7/365 as often as you wish.
  • Learning Badges – dig deeply into evidence of the development of real world skills.
  • Standardized tests – compare your child’s progress year to year in math, reading, writing and critical thinking.

Tips to help in your assessment:

Math: The online dashboards of our game-based adaptive programs are rich with analytic data that ensures your Eagle will master math processes. Be sure to ask your own tough math questions in real life and you’ll soon discover our Eagles know how to “do math” in the real world through our projects and quests – from graphing S.M.A.R.T. goals, to counting the money earned in selling their books and designing gardens.

Reading: Ask your Eagle about the books he or she is reading. Read aloud in the evenings; listen to your child read; ask probing questions about the story and characters. Help your child choosing books that are not too easy and not too challenging. We have lists of “great books” chosen by Eagles for you to reference. (We do keep a lookout for problems like dyslexia, and will inform you of any red flags that might require professional intervention.)

Plus, you always are welcome to come serve as a Reading Buddy with young Eagles, just ask Acton parent Jess Man for details in how and why this works. She has given countless hours as a buddy and has a wealth of experience in reading with children. Thank you, Jess, and all the other parents who do this regularly in our elementary studio.

Writing: Acton Eagles write every day. First they learn to capture profound thoughts on paper; editing, revision and grammar soon follow. (For me as a parent, this is the area where I must be the most patient with poor handwriting and grammatical mistakes. I must remind myself that diligent practice and a love of writing will fix these problems in time.) If you’d like samples of writing at different grade levels, simply Google the question and you’ll find plenty.

Science, Civilization and other Areas: Listen to your Eagle’s interactions with adults and pay close attention to the questions he or she asks. Look for “lessons learned” from the portfolios or the skills displayed at exhibitions.

We are blessed to have some of the leading education experts in the world tour Acton on a regular basis, and they always are amazed. Feel free to come observe anytime and join them in celebrating your Eagle.

Some Parting Words

Yes, it’s easy to get scared and worry about your Eagle’s future. You’ve probably worried what they are missing by going to a school that does not have grades, grade levels and a standardized approach to learning.

As a mom, I have to remind myself that learning is hard and messy and happens at different paces within the same age range. There are plateaus – even pauses – in learning rather than steady progressions, and these times are difficult. So is resisting the temptation to compare them to other children.

And, there are times when I have trouble trusting my children’s choices. One of our sons went two weeks straight doing only math during core skills time. I worried about his reading, until he said: “Mom, I’m going to focus on that next. I was on a roll in math.”

Next time you worry like me, please take some time to dig into those seven resources of hard evidence of transformative learning, take a deep breath and trust your child. As hard as it is to do so, it beats the certainty of empty letter grades, hours of meaningless homework and the forced regurgitation of facts that all too often are substituted for real intellectual and moral growth. Then you can relax and truly enjoy this amazing journey.

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6th-8th Grade

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Middle School is where young people rapidly start owning their education. Middle school is the perfect time to develop intellect and character while gaining a deeper sense of self and the real world. Students have a broad palette of topics to study and pair in-depth academic exploration with real-world connections to experts and local apprenticeships. Middle School is about deepening a passion for individual subjects while broadening your understanding of yourself and your future.