Assessment is a “hot topic” in the news and in educational debate. In Waldorf schools assessment takes many forms, none of which includes standardized testing.
During the year, concentrated “blocks” of study might include an end-of-block assessment. A block might be three or four weeks long and concentrate study on one topic. After a botany block in the fifth grade an outdoor “treasure” hunt to find, for example, a monocotyledon, a pistil, a tap root, a deciduous conifer branch, a dicotyledon, and so on, might be the "test.” After a block on physiology in grade seven, an essay entitled, “The Diary of a Sandwich,” might be the means of assessment. In high school, during a block on medieval history, students might be asked to submit a completed craft representative of the time studied: a hand-stitched dress, a blacksmithed hook, a tapestry or embroidered table runner, an illuminated page of a manuscript, as examples. A teacher might actually give a test at the end of a block, as well. This is called in Waldorf schools a “block test.”
Some Waldorf schools have reports sent to parents at the end of every block in high school and some Waldorf schools submit mid-year reports as well as end-of year reports after fifth or sixth grade. Some Waldorf schools might do internal mid-year reports to alert the faculty to the possibility that a child might be doing well in main lesson but could be struggling in another class. But all Waldorf schools give parents the most important assessment of all, “The End of Year Report.”
This most significant summation of the development of each student during each school year is written by the class teacher and by each special subject teacher. In the report the teacher characterizes the child with an expressive picture and describes how the child learns and lives in the social structure of the class. From the picture then flows the teacher’s insight into what and how the student learned, grew and flourished, or languished and withdrew. The teacher might then describe highlights of the successes and struggles in the block studies of the year. Lastly the teacher might describe activities or pictures for the summer that parents can use to support what the teacher might see as necessary to the child’s particular point of growth, in preparation for the coming year.
The end of year report includes shorter reports from all the specialty teachers of the child and also includes a description of the year’s curriculum.
All the year through, Waldorf teachers meditate daily on each student entrusted to them to teach. The meditation is often a vivid picturing of the child in motion, or of the child in a particular moment –– perhaps many moments ––in the preceding day. Meditation is also a form of assessment and is an integral part of preparing to write the year end report. Allowing a gesture, or a movement, or a shining moment in the school year to light up the teacher’s imagination inwardly often helps the love that the teacher has for the child to rise up strongly in the teacher’s heart and inner pondering.
Some teachers and schools give, along with the report, a “report verse”: a short poem written by the teacher for the child, making a picture for the child to ponder to explain artistically to the child how the teacher sees the student. This verse is sometimes given to the child on his or her birthday when it is called a “birthday verse.” In either case, children might stand up and recite the gift of the verse for the whole class. Alternately, a teacher might paint or draw a picture for each child. The effect is the same in that the children experience the healing in the picture and connection with their teacher.
More in depth and nuanced than a simple “grade” or “test score” or “report card,” the end of year report holds the teacher’s deep experience of the child’s striving, struggles, successes and accomplishments. The teacher pours the essence of her relationship to the student into writing the report. These carry the love and insight developed on behalf of each child and calls all the grownups caring for the child to see the child anew. The year is encapsulated in the report and the promise of the child’s next phase of development is affirmed and pictured for the child’s future as a learner, as a striving individual, and as a member of the class and school community.