Educators from Carolina Friends School in Durham explore the relationship between health and education.

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is an independent Quaker school serving students 3-18. Contact the school at:

4809 Friends School Road
Durham, NC 27705
Telephone: ( 919) 383-6602

Katherine Scott is Communications Coordinator at Carolina Friends School. A native North Carolinian, Katherine holds a BA in graphic design and art history from Meredith College and an MA in art history from Rutgers University. In addition to graphic design and digital photography, Katherine is a consummate storyteller, always exploring new narrative forms, visually and otherwise. Her diverse experiences have provided her with expertise in strategic communications and project management. She is also a Carolina Friends School parent.

How Do We Know How Our Kids Are Doing?

By Katherine Scott, MA

Our workplaces are increasingly looking for employees who are adaptable, adept at independent critical thinking, and able to collaborate and relate to others in a socially conscious manner. It begs the question: Is an educational system increasingly geared to standardized tests as measures of success what we need to prepare our children for their future? Will students learn to imagine what’s possible, or be hindered by fear of failure?.

Katherine Scott

Teachers and administrators across the country are exploring new methods of student evaluation to better support student success, and a growing body of research supports their efforts. A leader in the intersection of education, neuroscience, and psychology, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, has found that students often place a higher emotional weight on the grade as an end product over the process of learning, and “learning for its own sake wilts.”

Another by-product of this intense focus on grades can be a decreased interest in building healthy relationships. A 2014 study of 10,000 middle and high school children by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education found that 80 percent of students said they value achievement and individual happiness over caring for others.

Feedback that is more frequent and purposeful can shift emphasis toward the process of learning rather than just the end product. Alternatives or complements to traditional grades can include student portfolios, teacher-written narratives on growth and learning, and assessments conducted by the students themselves or their peers. In addition, working with students on identifying and working towards social-emotional, physical, and intellectual goals will help them develop as whole people.

A Different Approach to Assessment

From its start in 1964, Carolina Friends School’s early educational pioneers identified a need for more in-depth assessment. In 1980, the school formally contested the State of North Carolina to maintain its unique assessment process, which does not include participation in state-mandated standardized tests. In the formal statement, Don Wells, the school’s principal at the time, stated that assessment of students was made through staff consensus, using a variety of inputs, including but not limited to criterion and diagnostic tests and input from outside professionals, students, and parents. He noted that this method of education, familiar in Quaker schools, was “well known for its strength and effectiveness in ‘producing’ students both academically strong and socially concerned.”

Since 2017, a movement has been growing in public and private schools to change the way a student’s education is measured for the college admissions process. The Mastery Transcript Consortium has worked to create an alternative model that better “reflects the unique skills, strengths, and interests of each learner.” The development of this model and a greater recognition for improvement is encouraging.

Our assessment at Carolina Friends School has always been and continues to be dedicated to nurturing the whole child. While consideration of the array of evaluative quantitative and qualitative tools is ongoing and informed by research and best practices, the primacy of relationship between teacher and student remains our top priority. Just as true now as in 1980, was the sentiment shared by teacher Hattie Scott: “Individual growth is supported and encouraged in the atmosphere of sincere honesty and high expectations created by talented and committed professionals, students, and parents.”