Reimagining Education Series: Approaches for Assessing Student Learning

During the 2020–21 school year, educators in many districts and schools relied on alternative measures to assess student learning, in part due to the disruption of conventional assessment practices related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Region 1 states have a history of promoting innovative assessment strategies that are evidence-based, and which provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in more authentic ways than traditional assessments. Paper 2 highlights three of these evidence-based approaches to assessing student learning:

  • Competency-based and proficiency-based assessment. A competency-based assessment provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills at a pace that is personalized to the individual student. This form of assessment does not require the consideration of time spent on task or in the classroom, but rather promotes completion of work and a demonstration of student progress. Evidence supporting competency-based assessments document a positive relationship between competency-based practices and student engagement, motivation, and self-management.
  • Authentic Assessment. While a variety of strategies may be considered authentic assessments, at its core authentic assessments prompt students to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world contexts, and often include hands-on activities. This type of assessment may be more meaningful to the student or relevant to real-world interests, and it provides an opportunity for students to develop products and skills that have value outside of the classroom. Authentic assessments can have a positive impact on post-secondary student outcomes, such as graduation rates, college enrollment, and college persistence.
  • Formative Assessment. Formative assessments are ongoing assessments that include a process between teachers and students to continuously elicit and use evidence of student progress toward their learning goals. Feedback is critical to this form of assessment, since feedback provided by a teacher can help students better understand how to advance towards their learning goals. Formative assessments have a positive impact on student achievement and the development of self-directed learning skills.

State, district, and school leaders can look to these three evidence-based strategies as they plan and prioritize forms of assessment that will identify where students are at the outset of the 2020–21 school year, and how teachers can measure student progress toward their learning goals. View all the papers in the Reimaging Education series. 

The contents of this blog were developed under a grant from the Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.