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Assessing Deeper Learning

Strategies for Assessing Deeper Learning

Examples of strategies used to assess deeper learning include the following

  • Competency-based assessments are designed to measure specific skills that students have learned against a set of standards. Students demonstrate their knowledge and skills by engaging in multiple forms of assessment activities and experiences, often at a personalized pace. A student advances based on mastery of course content, not on the number of days spent in the classroom. These assessments can be given to measure progress during a course or unit, as well as at the end of a course or unit. Learn more about competency-based assessments.
  • Performance assessments can highlight student strengths in ways not always evident through traditional standardized tests. Performance assessments ask students to apply their knowledge and skills in creating some form of product, presentation, or demonstration. They provide students with opportunities to demonstrate their learning through various modalities and approaches that appeal to diverse styles and interests. Learn more about how All students, including those who are traditionally underserved, stand to benefit from assessments that allow them to draw upon different ways to demonstrate learning.
  • Portfolio assessments involve the systematic collection of students’ work samples, records of observation, test results, and other artifacts collected over a period of time for the purpose of evaluating student growth and achievement. The Alliance’s document, The Deeper Learning Network describes a national network of more than 500 schools, which calls for student portfolios—at both middle and high schools—to evaluate performance. Learn more about one type of portfolio in the textbox, High School Graduation Portfolios.
  • Project-based assessments are cumulative in nature and offer students opportunities to apply a set of knowledge and skills to a topic, problem, or issue over time (e.g., creating new products, solving a community-based problem, or presenting data to highlight a need). Learn more about project-based assessments.

When used alongside other types of formative, interim, and summative assessments (e.g., multiple-choice tests and short-answer exams), these assessments measure deeper learning outcomes in a more comprehensive manner and provide a more accurate picture of where students are in their progress toward developing the knowledge and skills necessary for success in college, a career, and life. Assessments that measure deeper learning also provide multiple opportunities for students to fine-tune their learning as they build and apply knowledge and skills systematically over time. They also help schools to identify and support a full continuum of student learning.

Aligning Assessments with Deeper Learning

When used systematically, assessment of deeper learning can serve as a significant part of a state’s or district’s accountability system. State tests used for accountability purposes exert a strong influence on classroom practice, which, in turn, broadens opportunities for students to actively participate in directing their own learning path. Assessments that measure deeper learning make the expectations for learning concrete, and they signal to schools the type of learning conditions needed for optimal student attainment of skills that prepare them for college, a career, and life.


What Does Deeper Learning Look Like? Graduation Portfolio (Video)
In this ten-minute video, students and teachers at CAT show how students develop their graduation portfolios.

Transforming Schools Using Project-Based Learning, Performance Assessment, and Common Core State Standards (Webinar) (March 10, 2015)
This webinar examines how the school network, Envision Schools, uses performance assessment and project-based learning. Panelists from Envision, including two graduates of the program, discuss the graduation portfolio and how school leaders redesigned the school system, curriculum, teacher professional learning, and assessment to support student success in college and career goals.

Some states and districts have undergone a systematic process of considering ways to make their assessments align with deeper learning. The Ohio Performance Assessment Pilot Project (OPAPP) is an example of how one state created a system of assessment that measures and promotes deeper learning competencies Watch the Alliance for Excellent Education’s webinar discussing the Project’s accomplishments.

In some cases, states have formed steering commit- tees to review deeper learning approaches and assess- ments. For example, Kentucky is implementing a performance-based assessment system on a larger scale through its Districts of Innovation initiative. The Rhode Island Department of Education launched the Scaling Up Proficiency Based Graduation in Rhode Island’s Secondary Schools initiative and it recruits demonstration schools to pilot the initiative. The Maine Department of Education is implementing its Getting to Proficiency: Helping Maine Graduate Every Student Prepared initiative, which utilizes proficiency-based education.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment that measures how well fifteen-year-old students in more than seventy countries and economies perform at solving real-life problems in reading, math, and science. PISA provides an example of an assessment that includes skills associated with deeper learning outcomes. The textbox, Find Out More About PISA, identifies resources that may be helpful to learning more.

Opportunities in ESSA

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law in December 2015, includes several assessment provisions that support deeper learning. While the federal law does not explicitly make mention of deeper learning, the assessment flexibility and the examples of types of assessments in ESSA show a strong connection to deeper learning instruction and assessment for all student subgroups, some of whom have traditionally been underserved.

ESSA provides unprecedented flexibility for states to develop or use assessment systems that measure higher-order thinking skills and understanding and promote application of skills and content to demonstrate mastery. Preparing students for college, a career, and life in general, requires educators to understand the skills needed for deeper learning (e.g., mastery of core content, critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, communication, self-directed learning, and academic mindset), and to provide the conditions for students to learn and demonstrate them. State education agencies are tasked with supporting local education agencies through policy, budget, and sound practices and procedures for ensuring not only a learning environment that promotes deeper learning opportunities but also a system of assessment to demonstrate the learning. Learn more about ESSA opportunities in the ESSA and Deeper Learning toolkit.

About the Assessing Deeper Learning Toolkits

There are two toolkits on the topic of assessing deeper learning. They provide an introduction to related issues for state and district leaders as they plan for assessments that measure deeper learning.

  • Using Assessment Results. State and district leaders have the responsibility for communicating the importance of assessment systems and assess- ment results to constituents. When moving from multiple-choice-type assessments to higher-level assessments that measure deeper learning, district leaders should involve building leaders, teachers, parents, community members, and students in the analyses of new assessment results and about changes the district will undertake to overcome underperformance. How results from assessments of deeper learning outcomes are accessed and used are major considerations for state and district leaders. For assessment results to be used effectively, they must provide useful information in a timely manner and in a format that is easily accessible to constituents.
  • The Every Student Succeeds Act and Assessing for Deeper Learning. This toolkit provides an overview of the opportunities in ESSA that support assessing deeper learning outcomes. It offers tools and discussion questions that state and district leaders can use to familiarize themselves with the law.

Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.