Student Assessments in the Upper School Climate Change Class
Lou Fish-Sadin, Upper School Faculty

It’s Standards Conference week in the Upper School Climate Change elective I teach, and I’ve never been more excited about assessments. This week, each student has scheduled a fifteen minute meeting with me, one-on-one; these conferences are the only way that students’ learning is assessed in the class. As I finish the last of these meetings and reflect on them, I’m aware that learning happens through both the what and the how of these assessments.


At each of their conferences across the semester, students bring me evidence of their mastery of our four course standards. Some of their evidence may come from our class sessions: photos of their work, examples from their notes and reflections on our activities. Some comes from work done outside of class: journal entries, paragraphs written in preparation for the conference that articulate their understanding or audio recordings they’ve prepared. And some of the evidence gets generated during the conference itself: as the students and I discuss what they’ve prepared, they explain their thinking further or draw an image to answer a question I’ve asked. 

This week, students brought evidence to show that they “can identify ecological and social causes and consequences of rapid climate change, and can analyze its disproportionate impacts.” I saw diagrams of the greenhouse effect, notes on the impacts of colonization on energy development, and paragraphs connecting climate change to global health, political polarization and human migration. In future conferences, students will demonstrate that they can “connect rapid climate change to religion, economics, politics, and ethics,” “find their place in a response to the climate crisis,” and “leverage affective skills and/or spiritual practices for living well in a time of climate crisis.” As they dig into the components of these standards, students practice metacognition, reflecting on their own learning and identifying multiple ways to show understanding, and they practice agility as they find gaps in their understanding and work to fill them in. Every single time I am blown away with pride at their work and fascination at their ideas.


Adopting Standards Conferences for assessment in my upper level courses has transformed my teaching, allowing me to center relationships, curiosity, and understanding in new ways. I trust that leading their own assessment in this way teaches students lessons about learning, their capabilities and agency as well. Some students tell me that they leave their conferences surprised at how much they’ve learned in the last month. One student told me that conference grading was “intellectually harder but emotionally easier” than what she’d experienced before. That’s what I want for our students at FR: hard intellectual work that engages their minds, their ethics and their emotions, but work engaged always in relationship and with support that buoys their hearts.