Testing in Montessori Schools?

In my last post I began a discussion about a possible EdD in Montessori education at the high school level. Since then, I’ve done more research on the topic.

I found an extensive, thirty-six page evaluation by The Riley Institute at Furman University on Montessori schools in North Carolina. Take a look at the number of PUBLIC school districts with Montessori schools! I had no idea there was even such a thing as a public Montessori school, let alone this many in one state.

Apparently SC is the leading school in this venture, which is why Riley conducted their evaluation there. “According to the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, there now are more public Montessori programs (45) in South Carolina than any other state in the country (7,402 students by the end of the 2015/16 school year).” (p. 5)

The evaluation begins by echoing what Dr. Maria Montessori’s philosophy of education was. There are specific and necessary components of a Montessori program in order for it to be considered authentic. These are:

  • multiage groupings that foster peer learning
  • uninterrupted blocks of work time
  • guided choice of work activities
  • specially designed lessons
  • hands-on Montessori learning materials carefully arranged and available for use to students in an aesthetically pleasing environment
  • no extrinsic rewards offered or grades assigned
  • children are encouraged to explore personal interest while widely engaging with others

I highlighted the sixth bullet because, if you are like me, my left eyebrow went straight up when I read that no grades are assigned for Montessori students. The other bullets? No problem. But how does a public school, or any accredited school for that matter, get away with not assigning grades?

In a perfect world, stepping away from letter grades, or even a 4-point grading scale, would be ideal. This would organically allow students to move up to the next level as they are able and according to their learned skill sets. However, the American education system, from around 4th grade all the way to the upper echelons of collegiate learning, mandates grades. It’s how we promote students to the next grade and how we determine college acceptance. It’s what we put on our resumés to convince potential employers that we are highly qualified.

The Riley evaluation mentions testing again on page 4. When polled, the SC Montessori teachers confessed that they were concerned “about the amount of time spent testing.” Obviously, this statement contradicts the “no testing” assertion in Dr. Montessori’s philosophy of education.

Ann Pilzner, head of The Montessori School in Kalamazoo, MI, writes that her students take the NWEA MAP test twice per year. Her approach to using MAP testing is more “about the process and the experience for the child” than about actual results and assessment.

I found a thirteen page academic journal entitled, “Examining a Public Montessori School’s Response to the Pressures of High-Stakes Accountability.” I will be reading through the article this week and will report my findings on the HofH. Stay tuned!

Future Montessori discussions on the HofH:

  • standards incorporation
  • school attendance
  • student/teacher retention rate
  • student transition from Montessori to a liberal arts curriculum
  • an interview with the head of school of our own, local Montessori school, Hermosa (pending)
  • an interview with former students of Hermosa who moved to Desert Christian High School (confirmed)

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