Grants Lead the Way to New Assessments
In its 2012 report, Education for Life and Work, the National Research Council defined deeper learning as the ability to transfer knowledge to new situations, and stated that, through deeper learning, students develop 21st century competencies, such as critical thinking, reasoning, and communication. These competencies are correlated with important outcomes, although the evidence is limited, the NRC concluded.
However, the report also cautioned that there are few examples of methods to assess these competencies. "[N]ew types of assessment systems are needed that are capable of accurately measuring and supporting the acquisition of these skills," the report states. "A sustained program of research and development will be required to create assessments that are capable of measuring cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal competencies."
Help is on the way. In March, the Center for Innovation in Education at the University of Kentucky and Next Generation Learning Challenges awarded $2 million in grants to 12 organizations to develop and test new forms of assessment. Known as the Assessment for Learning initiative, these projects are now under way in dozens of schools in more than 10 states.
Some of the projects should sound familiar to readers of this blog. For example, one of the grantees is Summit Public Schools, a charter management network, that is developing an assessment of what the network calls "habits of success." These include factors such as emotional intelligence, self-directed learning behaviors, and growth mindsets, all of which research suggests are vitally important but challenging to measure.
Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, DC, meanwhile, a member of the EL Education network, is developing performance assessments specifically aimed at measuring the critical thinking and problem solving skills students develop during their "expeditions." The school's project description notes that, while teachers are confident that students attain those competencies, they have no way of measuring their growth in those critical areas.
One project is specifically aimed at building teachers' capacity to develop, administer, and score performance assessments. The Center for Collaborative Education is working with teachers in Rhode Island to create a "micro-credential" that will certify if teachers have attained the knowledge and skills necessary to design and use high-quality performance tasks. The teachers are then expected to become leaders to implement these tasks in their schools and districts.
A project by WestEd, meanwhile, is focused on building student agency in their own learning, The project will work with teachers in four districts in Arizona and Oregon to prepare them to develop assessments that enable students to assess their own progress.
It's important to note that these projects are almost exclusively focused on classroom-based assessments, rather than large-scale measures used for accountability purposes. But as the NRC report noted, the assessment world has focused heavily on accountability assessments, while the classroom-based measures--those that most directly affect teaching and learning every day--have been largely ignored.
That's why the Assessment for Learning project is so important. It's a first step toward strengthening the ability of teachers--and students--to use broader measures of student learning that will tap competencies seldom assessed by the large-scale measures that have loomed so large in schools. These projects will help forge the research and development effort the NRC committee considered so vital.