New assessments that measure a broader range of knowledge and skills than typical assessments measure are vital to ensure that students learn what they need to succeed in the future, according to a new policy brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The brief argues that such assessments would indicate whether students understand challenging content and are able to apply that knowledge to think critically, solve problems, communicate their understanding, and work with their peers.
“All students need these deeper learning competencies in an increasingly complex society,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “New assessments are needed not only to show whether students are developing those abilities but also to foster deeper learning in the classroom.”
According to the brief, “Assessing Deeper Learning,” state tests used for accountability purposes exert a strong influence on classroom practice. Such assessments make the expectations for student learning concrete, and they signal to teachers the kinds of performances students need to demonstrate in order to meet standards. Two consortia of states are currently developing new assessments, scheduled to be in place in 2014–15, that will measure the state-initiated common core state standards in English language arts and mathematics.
The brief notes that other countries routinely employ assessments that ask students to demonstrate deeper learning abilities. These assessments are used to hold schools accountable for results as well as to inform instruction. In addition, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which compares student performance among fifteen-year-olds in sixty nations around the world, tests students’ abilities to apply their knowledge to real-world problems.
Technology can support a shift to assessments that measure deeper learning, the brief notes. Online assessments can employ simulations and other techniques that enable students to demonstrate their knowledge to think critically and solve problems. Such assessments also provide results almost instantaneously, making them more useful to teachers.
The brief also notes that it is feasible to develop and administer assessments that measure deeper learning. Through the use of technology, and by pooling funds among states, states can lower the cost of high-quality assessments.
Federal policy can support the development and implementation of new assessments that measure deeper learning, the brief states. The federal government can require that assessments measure deeper learning competencies, support professional development for teachers, fairly measure the performance of students with disabilities and English language learners, and continue to provide support to states for ongoing operational costs of state assessments.
“Assessing Deeper Learning” is available online here.