Markets in everything: Standards & Assessments

Borrowing a phrase from GMU economist/blogger Tyler Cowen, there are markets for (almost) everything. In the case of educational standards and assessments, it may be worth considering a competition of ideas for the most effective way to frame and measure learning goals. I had a discussion about these ideas with an education pioneer this week:

Idea #1: Assessment Market. One potential benefit of national standards could be the development of a new marketplace for assessment systems. As we turn the corner from Edu 1.0 (batch, print, bubble) to Edu 2.0 (personal, digital, adaptive) we’re seeing the development of assessment that is smarter, faster, cheaper, and embedded in learning.

Rather than the oppressive, expensive, end of year bubble sheet drill that states currently impose on schools, states (or consortia) could accept proposals for alternative assessment systems aligned to common standards. Many of the proposed alternatives would incorporate online and adaptive assessments and performance demonstrations. This would encourage a generation of adaptive content and proficiency-based school formats.

Idea #2: Standards & Assessment Market. A more sweeping proposal would be to use a national assessment like NAEP to sample the effectiveness of a marketplace of educational models that utilize and aligned standards and assessments. Like a state charter board, a commission could provide a 5 year charter for a district or network to utilize a proposed combo. Renewal would be based on NAEP results and an review (that would replace and be of more value than the current accreditation process). Charter networks Uplift and IDEA could use IB and skip TX exams; Bellevue could use AP and College Board tests instead of the WASL; High Tech High could use Presentations of Learning and Pre-SAT.

While this idea may be too radical to replace the common standards train, it’s worth trying in a few states as a demonstration project. A version of #2 It could well be what comes after trying to make common standards work.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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