Building a High-Quality System of Assessments to Advance Deeper Learning

Originally posted on February 1, 2018 as a Learning Deeply Blog for Edweek

Are today’s students terribly over-tested, as many educators and observers argue—or, is it actually possible they’re not tested enough? This issue has been debated for decades. Finally, there’s an answer that makes sense, and it’s gaining ground across the country.

Schools, students, and families need the critical information testing provides to determine college and career readiness, and to develop effective interventions for those falling behind. No single test, nor a single type of test, can serve this purpose. But a comprehensive system of assessments—using different types of tests, at reasonable intervals, for different goals—can meet the demand for real-time, useful data without overburdening students or teachers.

As we shift our focus from a narrow set of learning goals to deeper learning, we expand the scope of information that education stakeholders need to know—from a grasp of basic content to the full range of knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed for success and responsible citizenship after high school.

At Jobs for the Future (JFF), we are pleased to see more states and school districts building high-quality systems of assessments that reflect deeper learning. And we are excited to be leaders of a national effort to provide exactly the kind of roadmap states and districts need to advance this work.

JFF has joined with a group of organizations and experts to express support for Ten principles to guide the development and implementation of these comprehensive assessment systems. The Ten Principles for Building a High-Quality System of Assessments draws on collective expertise developed over the past several decades of studying and designing assessments and assessment systems.

The root of this challenge lies in how districts and states build their system of assessments. No one assessment or piece of student work can provide all the information needed to appropriately inform teaching, learning, student support, and continuous improvement. But, too many assessments that aren’t well-aligned or thoughtfully designed can lead to duplication or creation of information that isn’t valuable to teachers, students, or families.

The answer lies in building a high-quality system of assessments where all assessment pieces fit together like a puzzle—maximizing efficiency, reducing duplication, and providing rich data throughout the school year. An array of assessments is needed—from formative to summative. All should have the capacity to require students to construct an answer, produce a product, or perform an activity rather than simply identify a predetermined answer. These are the assessments that will lead to the rich data that can help states and districts improve teaching and learning and provide students a clear sense of their progress toward readiness. It is also imperative that individual high-quality assessments not be implemented in isolation but as part of a coherent system that puts each and every student’s learning at the center.

This post is by Lexi Barrett, senior director of national education policy at Jobs for the Future. JFF and our partners stand ready to support states, school districts, schools, and communities as they take on the difficult work of building and evolving high-quality systems of assessments toward a goal of advancing equity in college, career, and civic readiness for all students.

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