All curriculum development and teaching practices are guided by the Ten Common Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools. Each year’s coursework revolves around a school-wide “Essential Question,” as well as on specific concepts and content in the academic disciplines, which reflect the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks.
Parker organizes instruction into integrated domains that include all the conventional subject areas:
- A/H – Arts and Humanities; includes History, Philosophy, Social Sciences, Literature, and Visual and Performing Arts
- MST – Mathematics, Science and Technology; includes Mathematics, all the Sciences, and Technology.
- Spanish – Spanish language and culture; instruction intended to enable students to communicate effectively and respectfully in Spanish-speaking cultures.
- Wellness – Health and Physical Education; integrated curriculum combining aspects of both traditional health classes with physical education, adventure programming, fitness skills and other mind-body connection skills.
Students are divided by division rather than grade level. There are three divisions at Parker:
- Div I – Roughly 7th and 8th grades
- Div II – Roughly 9th and 10th grades
- Div III – Roughly 11th and 12th grades
Div I and II are multi-year curricular cycles while Div III is comprised of semester and year-long Courses.
Class groups include a heterogeneous mix of 15 to 30 students whose ages span several years, and who work with one or two faculty members toward mastery of common standards. Every student is part of an Advisory group comprised of approximately 12 students and a faculty adviser.
Students are expected to develop and exhibit certain Habits of Learning in their academic work and in daily life. They are assessed based on these Essential Skills:
- Listening and Media Analysis
- Oral Presentation
- Artistic Expression
- Mathematical Problem-Solving
- Technical Communication
- Scientific Investigation
- Systems Thinking
- Spanish Language
For the most part, the first six skills are assessed by A/H teachers, the second five by MST teachers, and the final skills by Spanish or Wellness teachers, respectively. Each of these skills comes with a set of Criteria for Excellence. These criteria describe what students must do in order to meet expectations in a particular skill area. They are the same across Parker's three divisions. These criteria are posted in classrooms and are available in the Main Office. They are the basis for the individual rubrics designed to assess student work.
When a student hands in a piece of work, it is assessed based on the rubric developed for the assignment. For example, in a writing assignment, the student may "know his point and make it clear" (one of the Criteria for writing), but might not "support his ideas with enough details and evidence" (another Criterion). In this way, the students can use the Criteria within the rubric as a checklist when they are editing or revising their work or responding to the work of their fellow students.
Assessments are based on the Parker scale:
- Beginning – Student is beginning to meet expectations for the division
- Approaches – Student is approaching expectations
- Meets – Student meets expectations
- Exceeds – Student exceeds expectations
Student work and progress is exhibited via Portfolios. Students can gateway from one division to the next based on Promotion by Portfolio and the successful completion of a Gateway Portfolio. Students gateway one domain at a time. It is entirely possible for students to be in different divisions for different domains.
Seniors prepare a Graduation Portfolio and meet additional Graduation requirements in order to be awarded a diploma from Parker.
The Parker School does not rank its students, nor does it award letter grades, honors or prizes. However, Parker students do take the required Massachusetts state assessments (MCAS) at grades 8 and 10, as well as Stanford 9 achievement tests and the usual array of college entrance examinations such as the SAT and ACT.