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Aurora Institute

Assessment Literacy to Support Competency-based Education Systems and other Deeper Learning Efforts

Education Domain Blog

Authors: Scott Marion

Issues: Federal Policy, Create Space to Pilot Systems of Assessments


Assessment literacy has traditionally evoked measurement principles such as validity and reliability accompanied by complex equations, statistical terms, and images of normal curves, ogives, and error bands. We now conceptualize assessment literacy as the knowledge and skills associated with designing, selecting, interpreting, and using high-quality assessments to improve student learning. Beyond using assessments in their classrooms, assessment literate educators should be equipped to deal with an onslaught of data from large-scale state assessments, interim assessments, local district- or school-wide assessments, and classroom-based assessments. Whatever the definition, there is widespread concern about the lack of assessment literacy among educators.

The call for improved assessment literacy is not isolated to teachers. Administrators and policymakers need to be assessment literate to understand how to support school improvement efforts and other major initiatives. Unfortunately, educational leaders are inundated with so much data that they often resort to ideology, prior knowledge, and misleading sales pitches to make decisions (Coburn, 2009; Gerzon, 2015). The assessment literacy expectations for school, district, and state leaders illustrate the contextual nature of assessment literacy. For example, district leaders need to understand how to interpret and use assessment data to evaluate programs, but they do not necessarily need to know how to interpret student work on a complex mathematics performance assessment in order to be considered assessment literate. This also points to the need for different types of assessments to serve different purposes and uses. Therefore, assessment literacy also refers to an understanding of systems of assessment coherently linked together through a common learning model.

Improving assessment literacy has been a major challenge in the assessment community for many years. Notably, people like Rick Stiggins have kept this issue at the forefront of professional measurement organizations for at least 30 years. While we have made some progress, we are also facing new challenges. Many are now pushing for educators, administrators, and policymakers to be literate about the assessment of student learning in competency-based education systems and related initiatives to promote deeper learning by students. Unfortunately, unlike designing scoring rubrics for evaluating student writing, for example, the assessment issues associated with competency-based education are just starting to be addressed by the measurement community. This makes enhancing literacy of assessment in a competency-based context that much more challenging. For instance, when designing competency-based systems, educators and educational leaders need to work from research-based frameworks on how students develop discipline-based and interdisciplinary expertise. This raises challenges, among others, of creating assessments and assessment systems to support inferences of generalization (or transfer).

iNACOL has invited noted assessment experts Scott Marion and Lorrie Shepard to discuss ways to promote assessment literacy in general and with competency-based education systems more specifically in an upcoming webinar on Thursday, June 15 from 3:00-4:00 p.m. ET. This webinar is free to attend—please register here to receive login details.

Learn more about assessment literacy and systems of assessments: