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May 6, 2019

Reimagining Assessment: Measuring What Matters Most for Learners

Devin Vodicka, Chief Impact Officer and Chief Academic Officer

What will student assessment look like in the future? Nearly two decades after the No Child Left Behind Act, the most common measures of efficacy for public schools across the U.S. continue to be standardized tests, letter grades, and seat-time requirements. Today, however, we’re in the age of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which has functioned as a catalyst of sorts to reexamine how we measure success in schools.

Schools are increasingly adopting more learner-centered approaches that reflect significant shifts from traditional approaches that once typified school. A post-industrial system of education will also require post-industrial measures of success. For example, districts are developing new philosophies on grading, as well as the specific practices needed to operationalize them.

Katie Martin shares how schools are creating learner-centered systems.

Developing these post-industrial measures has not proven easy. The current industrial set of measures are deeply ingrained in our systems and psyche, whereas more expansive measures are unproven and immature. There is also a lack of clarity on what these measures should be and how they should be brought together to provide an actionable and complete picture of progress.

A New Paradigm for Progress

In my role as Chief Impact Officer and and Chief Academic Officer for Altitude Learning, I have the privilege of working with districts and schools around the country and I’m heartened to see that we’re making strides toward a new way of measuring progress. The assessment paradigm of the future will include measures of knowledge that have historically been emphasized while adding new inputs as well.  

In particular, I’m energized by a renewed emphasis on social-emotional learning and whole-child approaches that recognize the value of the habits, skills, and dispositions that will be essential for our students in a future that is typified by globalism and an accelerating pace of change.  

This doesn’t mean that knowledge acquisition becomes any less essential to student progress. We are simply increasing the focus on competency, instead of seat time and averages. For example, recent performance assessments would be emphasized in a competency-based approach.

Creating a Bigger Impact

After diving into the research and consulting with experts and thought leaders, we have developed an Impact Framework that includes three main categories: agency, collaboration, and real-world problem solving.

Altitude Learning’s Impact Framework encompasses a holistic set of measures that reflect the critical knowledge, skills, and habits that best prepare learners for their future.

1. Agency is about students demonstrating an ability to formulate their own unique goals and meet them through planning, engagement, assessment, and reflection. Instruments for measuring agency include:

  • Self-generated goal achievement, an important way for learners to develop capacity, self-management, and a sense of efficacy.
  • Competency-based evidence of mastery learning in academic domains such as language and literacy, mathematics, social studies, sciences, the arts, and physical wellness. Growth in these areas would be measured against a predetermined set of criteria and learning standards.
  • Growth comparisons that will emerge from the aggregation of daily learning interactions that form the basis of a comprehensive, valid, and reliable data set. Until now, this has typically taken the form of intermittent standardized tests.

2. Think of collaboration as an umbrella term used to describe the set of habits and skills that are critical for social interaction. There are various models such as the Character Lab set that includes self-control, grit, curiosity, growth mindset, gratitude, purpose, social intelligence, and zest. Or Covey’s “The Leader In Me” habits that include being proactive, beginning with the end in mind, putting first things first, thinking win-win, seeking first to understand and then be understood, synergizing, and sharpening the saw.

Read more by Devin Vodicka: How to Test Less

Regardless of the model, collaboration is an area where measures of success cannot be represented in a competency-based or mastery model. Developing these habits and skills is an ongoing process that can vary in different contexts. As a result, how we measure collaboration must be grounded in self-reflection, peer-assessment, and educator observations. Within the Altitude Learning platform, evidence of collaboration is aggregated over time to illustrate patterns and trends in each student’s development.

3. Problem-solving is where the application of agency and collaboration results in improvements for the benefit of a community. Problem-solving can be grounded in project-based learning, service learning, challenge-based learning, or any number of models that extend learning to authentic, real-world contexts. As an example, many schools are orienting students to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to provide a framework for contextualized problem-solving.  

We can measure problem-solving through expert feedback. This feedback may come through exhibitions of applied learning where the learner shares their journey with those who can provide meaningful feedback to validate impact and suggest next steps. Portfolios are helpful references for these exhibitions, particularly as they offer the right medium for demonstrations over time and the corresponding appropriate evaluations.

Learn more about our partner school program.

In order to operationalize this more holistic and comprehensive view of each learner, the efficiencies of technology need to be leveraged. This a place where technology makes tremendous sense in the classroom. Technology can help to create greater visibility for families and help educators to easily manage a higher volume of assessment inputs. Perhaps most importantly, technology will help the student see, take ownership of, and drive their learning.  

Operationalizing the Impact Framework is an important step in shifting to an expanded view of learner success. Altitude Learning is currently in the early stages of implementation, and in the future we will roll it out to partners in our network to validate with thousands of students in diverse school environments. By spring 2020, we hope to be able to expand the implementation by connecting with employers and higher education experts to begin incorporating the framework into hiring and admissions procedures.