Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School: Academic Outcomes
A+ Students and A+ Citizens
Students at the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School enjoy a warm, developmentally appropriate, hands-on curriculum based on the philosophy and pedagogy of Waldorf education founder Rudolf Steiner. A Waldorf education is designed to nurture and engage the whole child physically, cognitively and emotionally, but it is also a social education, so the children grow in a balanced way individually and among their peers. In addition to the highest quality academic education, Steiner elementary students practice instrumental and vocal music, games and movement, farming and outdoor learning, foreign language and arts such as woodworking, knitting, painting and clay modeling. Each grade performs a play every year. The process by which students learn emphasizes imagination, multiple intelligences and open-ended creativity rather than rote learning and testing; art, music and play are integrated throughout the school day. The goal of Waldorf education is to establish within each child his or her own high level of academic motivation and excellence, to prepare students to succeed at their choice of high school and college, and to reach their full human potential.
Meeting the students, one sees right away that they are happy, healthy, engaged, poised and kind. Clearly, they love learning. But how do they fare academically, in the long run?
After graduating from the eighth grade, Steiner students may go on to the affiliated Berkshire Waldorf High School (Stockbridge, MA) or Berkshire Hills’ well-regarded public high school, Monument Mountain. Steiner graduates recently have been accepted and matriculated to elite independent college preparatory schools including:
- BARD Academy at Simon’s Rock (Great Barrington, MA)
- Berkshire School (Sheffield, MA)
- Concord Academy (Concord, MA)
- Darrow School (New Lebanon, NY)
- Doane Stuart (Rensselaer, NY)
- Emma Willard (Troy, NY)
- The Harley School (Rochester, NY)
- Hotchkiss (Lakeville, CT)
- Interlochen Academy for the Arts (Interlochen, MI)
- Millbrook Academy (Millbrook, NY)
- Miss Hall’s School (Pittsfield, MA)
- Putney School (Putney, VT)
- Suffield Academy (Suffield, CT)
- Walnut Hill School for the Arts (Natick, MA)
Rudolf Steiner School Graduates Stand Out
Dr. Stephen Sagarin, Faculty chair and teacher at the Berkshire Waldorf High School, who carries a PhD in history from Columbia University, educates teachers at Sunbridge Institute, blogs about education and is the author of The Story of Waldorf Education in the United States: Past, Present and Future, had this to say about how Steiner graduates fare in high school: “Steiner students are better writers, better able to learn from their mistakes, better able to follow directions, more willing to think things through (rather than give an answer that they think the teacher wants or that would fit in the blank on a worksheet or the oval on a standardized test), more willing to participate, more artistic, less self-conscious and generally have better memories.”
Public High School
Marianne Young, the principal at local public high school Monument Mountain, notes that most GBRSS graduates immediately enter advanced placement classes as freshmen.
Monument Mountain High School guidance counselor Mike Powell comments that Steiner graduates, “Come in very well prepared. I’d characterize them as kids who are conscientious, prepared for class and able to handle honors level material, the highest-level material available as a ninth grader.
“They’re also involved. Whether athletics, drama or art, they come here with the idea that being involved in things outside of the classroom is important. Well mannered, polite, kind, courteous: if I polled teachers, a very common response would be that they are model students: well prepared, engaged, curious, respectful.”
Private High School
In the course of applying to and being accepted at some of America’s top secondary boarding schools, Steiner eighth graders voluntarily sit for the SSAT test, not as part of their academic school year, but because boarding and independent high schools generally require these test results as part of the application process. The SSAT is a national high school placement test that measures student ability. It provides a common denominator for schools to measure a student’s academic capabilities and an independent benchmark of a student’s educational strengths and weaknesses. As Waldorf students, Steiner School students who take the test may rarely or never have taken a standardized test before they take the SSAT. Their test results provide comparable evidence of how Steiner students perform in a “real world” setting.
Steiner eighth grade students generally test in the 90th percentile nationwide. Not only do these test scores demonstrate students’ abilities, they demonstrate the value of a teaching method that relies on constant check-ins between teacher, parents and pupil, and the nurturing of individual strengths.
Testing in a Waldorf Classroom
A recent study, Alternative Assessment in Waldorf Schools, describes the “curriculum embedded” assessments done multiple times a day by teachers in U.S. Waldorf schools, including shaking hands and making eye contact with students to assess the robustness of their energy, physical engagement, will strength, follow through and happiness. According to study results, “Waldorf teachers practice only classroom (i.e., individual, not standardized) assessments which measure cognitive, affective, psychomotor and also social, character and aesthetic development. Assessments are multidimensional (based on many pieces of evidence over time) and age appropriate; performance assessments are prominent; and the purpose of all assessments is pedagogical (not for grading or ranking).”
In an article in the Hudson Valley magazine Chronogram, “Testing, Testing: Does Assessment Make Better Students?” Steiner class teacher Pamela Giles describes how testing works in a Waldorf setting:
“We are really fortunate that we get to know students on a different level than is often possible in large state schools, where teachers are changed more frequently. We’ve got continuity; the class-teacher-student relationship can continue for eight years in core subjects. We’re constantly assessing every child through observation and written work—our students do a tremendous amount of writing. We give tests including essay, multiple choice, spelling and printed tests—we’re not afraid of them; they’re tools. We have many eyes viewing this one child, and if we see any red flags, we give diagnostic tests, do oral testing. We don’t use standardized tests because we don’t need them. Waldorf alumni worldwide prove that children thrive on expectation, not pressure, and being surrounded by people who are completely dedicated to them doing the best they possibly can. “
Drama teacher Jesse Howard has this to say about teaching Steiner graduates at The Berkshire School, a college preparatory school in Sheffield, Massachusetts: “In my experience at high school, working with kids who’ve been through Steiner, they generally have been the A+ citizens of the school, who end up being the true leaders, rather than ones who might have been appointed. They’re students who have a high level of character – people just gravitate toward them – charisma developed by really getting to know themselves in a way that is, I think, unique to Waldorf education, and something that the Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner school does particularly well.”
Beyond Steiner, graduates of the affiliated Berkshire Waldorf High School in Stockbridge, MA are admitted to 90% of the colleges to which they apply, and more than 80% are admitted to their first choice college.
Based on his professional experience as a brand consultant for world class colleges and universities such as Harvard and Carnegie-Mellon, Tom Sternal, President of Generation (a nonprofit branding consultancy) and Steiner parent, makes a point about Waldorf education producing graduates who are well rounded rather than what college admissions professionals call “spiky”; that is, they are engaged and interested—and excel—in many subjects, and have many interests, rather than specializing in one or two.
Sternal adds: “Many observers of higher education, including former Harvard University president Derek Bok, have reported a sea change in students’ and families’ desired outcomes. More and more, they are searching for guarantees of jobs and careers, looking at their educational investment as a means to a professional end. But as many of us have experienced in our own lives, it’s the ability to discern, to reason, to think that are the most important skills you acquire in school, and offer the greatest edge and greatest satisfaction in college and beyond. Many of us, myself included, are working in fields that we didn’t know existed, or perhaps didn’t exist, when we were in school.
“Waldorf education delivers a solid, well rounded foundation of curiosity, creativity and intellect. As more and more schools preach specialization and single minded pursuits to demonstrate excellence, the Waldorf educational philosophy suggests that greatest opportunity comes not from a narrow focus, but a broadminded, engaged sense of self.”
Arthur Zajonc, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physics at Amherst College, had this to say about Waldorf graduates in higher education: “By the time they reach us at the college and university level, Waldorf students are grounded broadly and deeply, and have a remarkable enthusiasm for learning. Such students possess the eye of the discoverer and the compassionate heart of the reformer which, when joined to a task, can change the planet.”
Choosing a School for Life
Great Barrington business leader and community activist Erik Bruun began his search for the right elementary school for his children by starting with outcomes. He asked an English teacher/admissions officer at The Berkshire School if there was a difference in students who came from various local elementary schools, and the teacher introduced him to Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School. Bruun visited several independent elementary schools in the area, and describes how, the day he visited Steiner, he noted the joy on passing students’ faces in the hall, which was full of music and singing, and a class wielding wooden swords. “I felt I would be robbing my children if they went elsewhere, because in other schools there was a kind of ‘deadness,’” he says.
When asked what Steiner teachers do to instruct and inspire their students to achieve these kinds of assessments from high school and college teachers, eighth grade teacher Pamela Giles was quick to respond about the good habits she encourages. “Study habits are like muscles. Students want to engage with the curriculum and be active. I ask my students to be active learners, to take up the content of teaching projects in which there’s a 50/50 relationship with me as the teacher, and they respond.”
The Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School provides a rich curriculum that engages students on multiple, experiential levels, nurturing their native curiosity and encouraging them to become lifelong learners. Results, both anecdotal and quantifiable, attest that Waldorf teaching methods practiced at the Steiner School produce students with grace, character, leadership skills and creative, adaptable intelligence that supports graduates in whatever academic path they choose to take from here.
Being personally acquainted with a number of Waldorf students, I can say that they come closer to realizing their own potentials than practically anyone I know.Dr. Joseph Weizenbaum
Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
If you’ve had the experience of binding a book, knitting a sock, playing a recorder, then you feel that you can build a rocket ship or learn a software program you’ve never touched. It’s not bravado, just a quiet confidence. There is nothing you can’t do. Why couldn’t you? Why couldn’t anybody?Peter Nitze
Waldorf and Harvard graduate
Director of an aerospace company
Waldorf education draws out the best of qualities in young people. While this is not an instant process, the values they learn provide a lifelong platform from which to grow.Gilbert Grosvenor
President Emeritus of the National Geographic Society