How Assessments Can Support, Not Just Measure, Student Learning

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The project has awarded grants to 17 teams of education leaders at the school, district and state levels, all of whom are working to improve assessment systems. No one is arguing schools should stop measuring math and reading ability or content knowledge. But these grantees are seeking ways to better balance assessment systems that have prioritized that to the exclusion of other skills for decades.

In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools has a “Portrait of a Graduate” that identifies the skills students need to be successful in today’s world. Among them are the 4 Cs. But the district noticed principals and teachers still face pressure to teach to the narrower state tests, and therefore make decisions about what students learn that ignore the goals of the graduate profile.

As an ALP grantee, Fairfax County partnered with 11 other Virginia districts to create what they call student-led assessment, a process that includes daily reflections on learning, student-led conferences and capstone projects that force students to engage with the community. This process, they hope, will make assessment more relevant to what students are learning, and give them the communication, collaboration and other skills they’ll need along the way.

One major recommendation from ALP is to invest in teacher training as part of such work, according to Tony Siddall, K-12 program officer for Next Generation Learning Challenges, a lead partner on the project. 

“The most impactful assessment for learning is the assessment of what is happening in the classroom, integrated with instruction and the curriculum,” Siddall said.

That’s done by teachers. But the time and investment necessary to increase teacher capacity is one barrier to doing this work. It’s hard to fit into an already-packed school day and year.

Still, few people have to be convinced it’s time for change. Siddall said there is a surprising degree of consensus among parents, teachers and employers about what skills schools should be measuring. They don’t want to stop measuring academic skills like reading and writing. But there is widespread agreement that collaboration and social skills should be in the mix, as they are considered increasingly important for success in well-paying jobs.

ALP is helping schools strike a balance, ensuring change doesn’t simply bring new, competing tests, but a system of assessment that supports student learning while giving parents, teachers, state leaders and future employers the information they need to know about student achievement.

(The Assessment for Learning Project is funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, both of which are among the many funders of The Hechinger Report.)

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