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Aurora Institute

Redesigning Systems of Assessments for Student-Centered Learning

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): Susan Patrick, Dale Frost, Maria Worthen, Natalie Truong

Issue(s): Federal Policy, Create Space to Pilot Systems of Assessments, State Policy, Build Balanced Systems of Assessments

Assessment is essential for understanding what students know and for providing transparency and fairness when it comes to certifying mastery of knowledge and skills. Assessment can provide timely feedback to educators on where students are in their learning and to inform the supports that they need to succeed. It also plays an important role for educational leaders to evaluate the effectiveness of learning models, on achievement and for policymakers to understand the effectiveness of policies and use of public funding. In redesigning systems of assessments, state policymakers should consider what is needed to make assessment more meaningful and integrally-linked to student learning.

The challenge ahead for policymakers is to rethink assessment policies to enable student-centered teaching and learning. This will require creating balanced systems of assessments to:

  • Support individual student learning and achievement outcomes that matter;
  • Empower educators to facilitate student progress, deeper learning and growth toward a new, more comprehensive definitions of student success;
  • Provide feedback on depth and breadth of learning, as well as valid reporting on progress;
  • Provide timely supports so that no student falls through the cracks;
  • Support a personalized, competency-based system which recognizes that students can learn anytime and everywhere; and
  • Serve as an equitable and transparent mechanism to certify student mastery of the knowledge and skills students need to succeed.

Opportunities for Redesigning Systems of Assessments

Thanks to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states now have much more flexibility to redesign state systems of assessments to better align to student-centered learning, allowing educators to focus on meeting students where they are so all students can succeed.

States may include a variety of assessment and item types in their new systems of assessments, including:

  • Adaptive assessments to pinpoint more accurately where students are in their learning progressions;
  • Formative assessments to determine if students are ready to demonstrate mastery on interim or summative assessments;
  • Interim assessments to measure individual student growth and knowledge gained over a given period of time;
  • Summative assessments to provide a determination or certification of learning; and
  • Performance assessments to measure complex demonstrations of mastery and integrate multiple points of learning evidence. 

These distinct elements can work in concert within systems of assessments to provide both transparency on student learning and support teaching and learning.

While some states are beginning to take advantage of the flexibility in ESSA around their systems of assessments, many others may face capacity challenges or the political will to do so. It is important to note that state policymakers may ask the U.S. Department of Education at any time for permission to amend their ESSA state plans to include redesigned systems of assessments.

ESSA allows for states to apply to an innovative assessment demonstration authority to pilot next generation systems of assessments in a subset of districts before scaling statewide. State leaders could partner with districts and schools for the pilot that are beginning to lead the way on competency-based learning to develop new approaches to state systems of assessments that better support student-centered learning. States may submit an “intent to apply” by February 2, 2018, and final applications are due on April 2, 2018.  

On January 29, 2018, iNACOL will host a webinar titled, The Innovative Assessment Pilot: A New Opportunity for States and Districts to Collaborate in Developing Next Generation Systems of Assessments. This webinar will provide an overview of the Pilot’s requirements and application process. Participants will gain a deeper understanding of the pilot program, hear from an assessment expert on considerations for designing new systems of assessment to ensure student success and learn how states can collaborate on new models, with or without the demonstration authority.

Staff from state educational agencies, state policymakers and school districts engaged in developing innovative systems of assessments are encouraged to attend.

This is the seventh article in the Current to Future State series that explores the ideas in the recent iNACOL report titled: Current to Future State: Issues and Action Steps for State Policy to Support Personalized, Competency-Based Learning.

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