Grants for New Assessment Systems Signal the End of the Big Test

A dozen grants totaling $2 million may not sound important, but the Assessment for Learning Project is an important signpost on the path forward for American education.
The grants provide critical R&D funding and advice to innovative grantee districts and networks. This work signals the beginning of the end of week long standardized tests and, with related developments, will shape measurement and progress reporting in the coming decade.


In the first few months of the last decade I was providing support to innovative schools including New Tech High and High Tech High while advocating for the reauthorization of federal education policy that became known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Now appearing antithetical, these activities were united in the goal of spreading access to quality learning experiences for low-income students.

It is now clear that NCLB resulted in unintended consequences including narrowed scripted curricula and weeks of test prep. The well-intentioned and bipartisan law was never updated in ways that would have made the school accountability framework useful rather than crippling. Add the impact of federal recovery spending and it’s hard to overstate how dominant the federal/national standards-based reform framework was to the last twenty years of American education.

With the reauthorization of federal education policy and shifts in the political landscape it’s fair to say that pendulum has swung back to state policy as the dominant framework. What’s new is better tools, expanded access to informal learning and the innovation economy. Interest in personalized learning appears to be the dominant meme in American education–a new frame influenced by advocacy, investment, and innovative models. This spine for this new framework is a rich assessment system–one that is still under construction.

Inventing the future

The Assessment for Learning Project (ALP) is a partnership between Center for Innovation in Education and Next Generation Learning Challenges. The partners reviewed 148 proposals submitted by schools, districts, networks, state agencies and nonprofits from across the country.

Twelve grants totaling $2 million were awarded. Big themes were broader aims, educator capacity and new systems of assessment. (See an interactive map of grantees and themes.)

Broader aims. A group of Virginia districts will encourage students to set goals and measure progress toward a broader set of graduate attributes. Student-led learning will be marked by Exhibitions of Learning and recorded in a student-curated portfolio system.

Georgia’s Henry County Schools will promote student agency through new feedback protocols designed to promote deeper learning, more ownership, and 21st century skills.

Summit Public Schools, a leader in promoting habits of success, will improve its comprehensive curriculum and assessment system that addresses each component of college and career readiness (see Summit’s social emotional rubric).

A network of Hawaiian schools will test cultural responsiveness assessments.

Teacher capacity. A multistate consortium will deploy a common set of performance assessments. A group of Rhode Island schools will develop and pilot a Performance Assessment for Learning Micro-Credential system which will build the capacity of teachers to design, field test, score, and refine high quality performance tasks.

New systems. Four elementary schools in New Hampshire are piloting methods for combining competency-based learning and performance assessments in multi-age learning settings. The purpose is to develop a new model of personalization that allows a more flexible and effective educational pathway through the development and use of PreK-Grade 5 learning progressions. The result is deeper, more authentic learning opportunities leading to greater student success.

A group of Colorado districts are deploying common performance assessments and developing new learning progressions to empower student ownership and agency.

With the shift to digital, most learning experiences have embedded or associated assessments. Students are benefiting from more feedback and teachers are benefiting from more data. These projects will add high quality performance assessments (like writing assignments and challenging problems) and will develop methods of better combining all of this formative data.

When student progress (i.e., growth and achievement) is clearly and reliably communicated to stakeholders it will no longer be necessary to impose big end of year tests.

For more see:

Stay in-the-know with all things EdTech and innovations in learning by signing up to receive the weekly Smart Update. This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.

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.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.