An Evaluation Structure That Empowers

By Haley Leopold

During my adolescence, acing my exams was top priority. I would spend endless hours memorizing bits of content and vocabulary only to forget the majority of it the following semester. I graduated with a GPA that ranked me higher than the majority of my peers yet told me nothing about my passions, how well I collaborate, or my overall level of self-awareness. 

I believe this experience has influenced my work with the Springhouse curriculum, including the implementation of a skills-based competency framework and its complimentary evaluation structure, the Defense of Learning (DOL). 

At the end of every trimester, learners self-assess and defend their progress in the specific skills they worked on in courses and internships/apprenticeships. Learners use evidence of their growth and learning to defend their level of proficiency in a skill. This occurs in the presence of a panel of relevant individuals including course facilitators, peers, mentors, internship supervisors, and community members. During a DOL, the learner receives important feedback and engages in honest conversation around their learning process, strengths, and areas for continued growth. By the time a learner graduates from Springhouse, they will have worked toward proficiency in all foundational Springhouse competencies.

This process is empowering for learners. I’ve witnessed them take ownership over their growth and learning and trust in the feedback they receive. They also become motivated to work on skills that are challenging for them. For instance, one of the Springhouse competencies is “Focus and Follow Through,” which includes paying attention to details and persevering through challenges - a skill that is practiced when writing a paper and then turning it in by the due date. During a “check out” at the end of the school day, most learners replied “Focus and Follow Through” when asked which competency they would like to practice and strengthen. This structure allows learners to become more self-aware and to get a sense for where they are in their skill development. 

To learn more about the Springhouse curriculum, contact Haley at

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