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Aurora Institute

Blast Off with the Assessment for Learning Grantees

CompetencyWorks Blog

AfLWith ESSA upon us, we are all hurrying to get our heads wrapped around what is possible in terms of how we think about ensuring that our districts and schools are meeting needs of children and what state policy might look like to create the conditions, systems of supports, and appropriate expectations to drive dynamic, active learning experiences for students while improving services to historically underserved populations of students. It’s a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.

One resource that hopefully will help us along the way is the Assessment for Learning project developed by Center for Innovation in Education (CIE) at the University of Kentucky in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) at EDUCAUSE. The AfL project has been designed to explore:

  • How can assessment support a broader definition of student success?
  • What assessment practices most effectively empower students to own and advance their learning?
  • How can we most effectively build educator capacity to gather, interpret, and use evidence of student learning to enhance instruction?
  • How does assessment for learning inform broader contexts of accountability, policy, and system design?
  • How can we pursue equity through assessment for learning?

AfL has announced their twelve grantees, and I thought I’d bring to your attention a couple of the projects that are positioned well to help us understand what a personalized, competency-based system of assessments might look like. They are tackling issues such as grades (letter and age), habits of success, performance-based assessment, micro-credentialing, competency-based approaches to helping teachers learn about performance-based assessments, and student agency. We are about to lift off on a huge new wave of learning!

[An Aside: As I was reading through the project descriptions, I started wondering: Most but not all of the grantees are engaged in making the transition to competency-based education. How will the results be shaped or possibly differ for those districts and schools still using time-based systems that pass students on with Cs and Ds? Our hypothesis at CompetencyWorks is that every time you overlay innovations upon the traditional system you will get the same types of results because the system is actually designed to sort and, one could argue, reproduce inequity.]

Henry County SchoolsMaking Feedback Matter: In a personalized learning model, it is essential to focus on the feedback students get on their work and progress and to measure their ability, willingness, and mastery at responding to that feedback to advance learning. Through aligning feedback protocols, the district believes that students will gain a deeper understanding of their work, have greater ownership of the process of progress toward mastery, and grow in 21st century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. The project’s goal is to improve leader, teacher, and student capacity to analyze practice turns, provide effective and timely feedback, and track data collected from feedback to determine student agency. The district is piloting a feedback process and student and teacher training in fifteen pilot schools by using a locally-developed Learner Profile tool. Learn more about CompetencyWorks’ visit to Henry County.

The Colorado Education Initiative’s Multi-District Performance-Based Accountability Pilot: As leading statewide organizations commit to innovation, equity, and continuous learning, The Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) and Colorado Department of Education (CDE) are streamlining efforts to support districts around assessment, instruction, and personalized learning in ways that have lasting systems impact. This project builds on existing state and district capacities to meet emerging priorities and foster systems of assessment for learning that empower educators, foster student agency, and address the range of knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for college and career readiness. Participating districts are engaging in one or both of these pathways:

  1. Deepening systems capacity to create, administer, and locally score common, standards-aligned performance assessments
  2. Integrating student learning objectives (SLOs) and learning progressions to empower student ownership and agency

New Hampshire Learning Initiative’s NG2 Personalized Inclusive Education Pathways: Personalized Inclusive Education Pathways looks to take New Hampshire to the next level of personalized learning as it tackles long-standing educational barriers to personalized learning…that of “grades.” In this context, the team has recognized that two forms of grades exist in their schools that act as impediments:

  1. Grades as student assessments that often reflect very poorly on their true understandings and skills.
  2. Grades as methods for grouping students (by age) that often poorly align to their true needs as learners.

In this project, seven elementary schools in New Hampshire are piloting methods for combining competency-based learning and performance assessments in multi-age learning settings. The purpose is to develop a new model of personalization that allows a more flexible and effective educational pathway through the development and use of PreK-Grade 8 learning progressions. The result is deeper, more authentic learning opportunities leading to greater student success.

Hawai’i Department of Education’s Culturally Responsive Assessment of HĀ Outcomes: HĀ provides a framework that holds the promise of reaching every child through multiple learning pathways to strengthen HĀ outcomes: Belonging, Responsibility, Excellence, Aloha, Total Wellbeing, and Hawai’i (BREATH). HĀ outcomes expand the definition of success to include whole child development, social and emotional learning skills as well as academic mindsets, and community readiness combined with college and career readiness. Due to the lack of culturally responsive assessments, there is a need to design and test ways to assess and demonstrate HĀ outcomes that are culturally grounded in Hawai’i. The team is developing initial indicators of success and related assessment practices from a Hawaiian context by listening for mo’olelo (generative storytelling), allowing for an assessment model to emerge that is inclusive and represents actual experience and wisdom. Armed with an understanding of these necessary protocols and conditions, schools, complex areas, districts, and the state can (re)design for optimal learning and teaching environments.

Summit Public Schools’Assessment System for Habits of Success: Summit Public Schools has developed a personalized learning model that addresses the four key elements of college and career readiness for every student. The organization has already developed a robust assessment system for cognitive skills and content knowledge. They are now turning their attention to Habits of Success. Through this project, they are creating targeted assessments for learning for each of five categories of Habits of Success. As part of this assessment for learning system, teachers will have a clear framework and resources to promote student learning in these important skills. They will ensure the assessments in this area complement the other aspects of their assessment and learning system. Most importantly, students will develop the skills necessary for success in college, career, and beyond through a comprehensive curriculum and assessment system that addresses each component of college and career readiness.

WestEd’s Student Agency in Assessment and Learning: The team is piloting a personalized, video-enabled professional learning experience for teachers, and engaging leaders in developing systemic supports to build teacher and leader capacity for increased student agency in learning and assessment. Four districts that have participated in WestEd’s Formative Assessment Insights course are extending their professional learning through this Student Agency in Assessment and Learning project, which is grounded in the National Research Council’s framework of competencies for deeper learning. The goal is to increase district capacity for student-centered learning and assessment. During two ten-week modules, teachers participate in Video Study Groups (VSGs) in which groups of four teachers give and receive peer coaching using video clips of their practice. School leaders participate in a parallel learning model.

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