K-12 education is on the verge of a major transition in which assessment can accelerate learning as a component of innovative classroom practices, according to Trent Workman, senior vice president, school assessment at Pearson.
“People hear assessment, and they think of it as a distraction from learning,” he says. “But we’re seeing an improved and innovative way of using multiple types of reliable, purposeful, and action-driven assessment as part of the teaching and learning process. Teachers want time spent assessing to be a tool to understand what their students need, and to find solutions.”
This approach to progress monitoring that supports teachers, students and their families is in contrast to bracketing assessment as a “must do” at the end of the year.
This transition to assessment that accelerates learning is made possible by several trends Workman sees gaining momentum while he and his colleagues at Pearson work in partnership with state education departments and K-12 districts. Workman and his team are problem solvers collaborating with educators to achieve their learning goals, and these six trends have often come up in their work together.
1. Statewide progress monitoring to support equity
While summative assessments happen on a statewide basis, progress monitoring traditionally has only happened consistently at the district level. But the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Workman, “highlighted the inequities in access to education, how students are falling behind, and the need for statewide progress monitoring.”
States are actively looking for through-course solutions that identify equity gaps across the state and reveal potential solutions during the school year when action can still be taken to help students succeed, while also supporting local customization and innovation.
2. Assess the whole child
While progress monitoring changes the timing of assessment, what is monitored is becoming more meaningful. Along with content knowledge, new types of assessment illuminate foundational skills such as communication, collaboration, and other indicators of social-emotional learning.
“These assessments allow you to understand what else may be going on with a student and what support they really need,” Workman says. “Teachers have always known that content knowledge is one data point. Assessment is transforming to give a full picture of the individual student.”
Related reading: Assessment technology built with the whole child in mind
3. Performance-based assessment
Educators want to engage students with creative project-based activities such as performance tasks, lab work, portfolios, speeches, original research, and writing projects, and they want progress monitoring to work in the flow of those projects rather than distract from it.
“There are many modes for demonstrating what you know and can do, and assessments have started to mirror that,” Workman says. “The state education departments we talk to want to get a statewide picture of student progress that draws on authentic demonstration of knowledge and abilities through the use of performance-based and competency-based assessment solutions.”
Related reading: The power of performance assessments
4. Interoperable technology
The era of navigating multiple proprietary systems that don’t play well together is coming to end. Under the hood of many online assessment tools are emerging industry-wide interoperability requirements.
“Industry standards like QTI [Question and Test Interoperability] allow the investment made by the state or the district to be transferable and not a one-time cost,” says Workman. “That means coherent items, tests, and data that supports better decision making to accelerate learning.”
5. Support families
Disparate assessment and reporting systems often don’t cohere into a picture that helps parents and guardians understand their child’s progress. The best assessments empower parents to participate in school more effectively.
Says Workman, “The important part is making sure data is incredibly actionable.”
6. Thoughtful AI implementation
Artificial intelligence technologies are here and already powering assessment technologies to make scoring of performance-based activities more consistent and scalable.
As other use cases for AI emerge, says Workman, state and district leaders are seeking best practices that fit with their data protection and data privacy priorities and that support innovative teaching.
Making the transition
States, districts, and technology platforms can partner to transform assessment to a meaningful driver of teaching and learning that benefits all students if they confront two challenges: 1.) balancing the need for statewide data with the classroom-level need for customization, and 2.) balancing the growing opportunity with limited capacity.
The first challenge is made easier by the emerging technology and trends identified above. “State education departments and districts have choices now with lots of flexibility to ensure the variety of assessments they are using add up to something coherent, comprehensive, and aligned with their overall goals,” Workman says.
“The flexibility in assessment platforms now allows unique work at the classroom level while still giving the state a useful picture, and you can have summative tests that don’t feel like they contradict the work that was done in the classroom all year.”
New opportunities, new thinking
At this point, educators may feel there is more technology available to support innovation than there is time to use it thoughtfully. Emerging assessment platforms are easy to customize and easy to administer, says Workman, “but states and districts must figure out how to find capacity with openness and excitement about true innovation.”
“Evolutions in technology require different ways of thinking to reach for different opportunities. Extending this opportunity equitably to all students will take thoughtful leadership.”
But the results are worth it if states and K-12 districts can make assessment a part of the learning process. “When innovative assessment practices provide educators a detailed picture of student needs and they are able to provide the personalized support needed to be successful in school and life, it’s very exciting,” Workman says. “Seeing students outperform is our ultimate desired outcome.”
Speak with the Pearson Assessment Team