There were three major influences on the development of the Mission Hill Schools graduation standards: Deborah Meiers previous work with Central Park East and Central Park East Secondary School (CPESS), the precepts of The Coalition of Essential Schools, and discussion with other schools that were creating graduation exhibition standards. In addition, Meier and the staff brought their own experience and knowledge of children to the planning.
Two of the things Meier knew she wanted to bring from her experience at CPESS were the habits of mind and graduation by portfolio presentation. She wanted to see how and if these things, used so far only in a high school, could be translated into a K-8 school. The framework and rubrics we developed for the Mission Hill standards were loosely based on the models used at CPESS, although they were modified for younger students and included things particular to the Mission Hill School.
As a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools, we also knew we were committed to the 6th precept, "Assessment by Portfolio": "Teaching and learning should be documented with tools based on student performance of real tasks Students should have opportunities to exhibit their expertise before family and community. The diploma should be awarded upon a successful final demonstration of mastery for graduation an "Exhibition".
At the time, several of the Boston pilot schools were developing their own sets of graduation by portfolio presentation requirements. Among these was one elementary/middle school, The Harbor School. During our first year, we joined up with staff members from this school and a progressive Cambridge Public School, the Cambridgeport School, which ended in sixth grade. Staff members from all three schools met several times throughout the year to discuss and share ideas about what kind of graduation standards would be appropriate for younger students, and several Mission Hill staff members attended exhibitions at both schools. We also visited and talked often with teachers from New Mission High, a Boston pilot high school that had recently begun graduating students through exhibitions. In addition, we looked at several schools outside the immediate area, including the Shutesbury Public School and The Parker School, another Massachusetts Coalition School started by Ted Sizer.
After looking at the information gathered from CPESS and Boston area schools, the staff was ready to create our own graduation requirements, to be put into place in time for our first graduating class of eighth graders. The first draft of the requirements was hammered out at the staff summer retreat, in 1997, after Mission Hills first year of operation. We decided that our graduation standards would consist of presentations in six subject areas: History, Literature and Writing, Art, Math, Science, and Community Service (which we later changed to Beyond the Classroom, to include all learning that takes place outside the classroom). The presentations were a mix of finished pieces and on-demand tasks, so that we could see not only the students finished work but also what they were capable of without help. Though we will probably continue making minor changes, our requirements seemed to work well for our first graduating class. The film you see here is of those students, as seventh graders, preparing for the very first exhibitions of the school.