MPA’s philosophy of student learning is based on research from pioneering education experts including Howard Gardner and Benjamin Bloom as well as acclaimed modern researchers such as Carol Dweck. Our curriculum, pedagogy, and assessments are tied to best practices, representing a wide range of experiential learning that involves and reaches students of various learning styles and skills. We know that knowledge and comprehension are necessary for learning, and that it is also essential that students expand their higher-level thinking through application, analysis, evaluation, and synthesis. These 21st-century, higher-level thinking skills are built into our curriculum, with students consistently assessed in both formal and informal ways. MPA’s small class sizes and individual attention make it possible for teachers to know each student well and provide individual attention; we understand that every learner possesses gifts and strengths as well as areas ripe for development. We recognize the student who has complex thoughts but has trouble getting them on paper; the student who can memorize facts, but has difficulties creating meaning from them; and the student who can absorb information, but needs extra processing time. Projects, writing, discussion, solving complex equations, and drawing are only a few of the many types of assessments that happen year round, enabling teachers to closely monitor each child’s strengths and challenges. Standardized testing, which happens annually in grades 3–8 and grades 10 and 11, provides additional information.

Current research asserts the following about effective assessment:

  • Multiple assessments are needed for an accurate portrait of the academic achievement of all students.
  • High-stakes testing may be detrimental to student learning and motivation.
  • Assessments must consider both traditional components and elements that may be different for 21st-century student work.

While research shows that standardized test results are not fully indicative of any individual student’s learning, such data still can be valuable. So MPA administers the ACT Aspire—a vertically articulated, benchmarked, standards-based test—to students in grades 3–8 and grade 10, and the PSAT in grades 10 and 11. We use the results in three ways:

  1. To better inform curriculum design. We look for trends and patterns in responses to build curriculum and to fill or understand any gaps. In other words, using outside data helps ensure the curriculum delivers the education we intend.
  2. To identify discrepancies. With each student who doesn’t perform as expected, we consider whether the scoring discrepancy is due to weakness in test taking, just a bad day, or some other concern that needs to be addressed.
  3. To better prepare students for the testing component that the college process inevitably entails. Testing, like many things, is a skill, and students who have had experience with standardized testing are better prepared for college entrance exams. Curriculum and assessment that is designed to teach for understanding and critical thinking coupled with experience with standardized testing provides our students with a solid foundation for their college-bound path.

We recognize that standardized testing alone does not truly identify a child. Our students come to life as individuals in their daily interactions with their classmates, teachers, and curriculum. Because of that, we don’t teach to any test and we keep standardized testing time to a minimum. Instead, we fill our days with education that challenges, engages, and inspires.