Most educators recognize that standardized tests are insufficient for knowing how to improve student performance and teaching practice. They are best used as a mechanism for comparing and sorting students. What other types of assessments could help improve student performance and teaching practice and become a lever for achieving educational equity?
Assessments for (rather than of) learning
One way that assessment can become a lever for equity is by fundamentally shifting the purpose of assessment from comparing and sorting students to supporting deeper learning. Deeper learning goes beyond having basic content knowledge and foundational skills in reading and mathematics. Deep knowledge means knowing how to handle assignments or tasks that do not have one right answer, knowing how to raise pertinent questions, gather additional information, reason with evidence and, ultimately make judgments in complex and dynamic situations.
Student internships are one way to provide students with authentic opportunities to engage in learning experiences that can develop deeper knowledge. Additionally, internships support teachers' capacities to know their students well and improve the learning opportunities they enact with their students.
Del Lago Academy created a competency-based system of assessments
At Del Lago Academy of Applied Sciences (DLA), students experience deeper learning. They do so through their coursework and through their participation in a carefully constructed and assessed six-week internship. DLA is a small public high school in Escondido, Calif., with a deep commitment to education as a lever for equity. The school educates a diverse group of scholars. Half its student body qualifies for free and reduced-price lunch, and 70 percent of DLA students are nonwhite. The school's goal is to develop its students' industry-specific skills and expand their social networks and access to opportunities so that they can succeed in both higher education and in careers of their choosing. There is evidence that they succeed in doing so. According to the state's School Accountability Report Card, 95 percent of DLA students completed the state's high school graduation requirements, compared with 88 percent of students in the district and 87 percent in the state. While there is still room for improvement, educators at DLA attribute their students' success thus far to the school's competency-based approach to education and to the school's overall culture of achievement, which emphasizes the importance of peer-to-peer and peer-to-adult relationships and teaching students to believe that it is "never too late to learn."
This post is by Ann Jaquith, the Associate Director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE), and the author of How to Create the Conditions for Learning: Continuous Improvement in Classrooms, Schools, and Districts, published by Harvard Education Press, September 2017.