How State Assessments Can Foster 21st Century Learning

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) opens up new possibilities for more meaningful approaches to assessing student learning and teacher and school success. The law broadens the concept of student learning, requiring that assessments measure “higher order thinking skills and understanding,” and explicitly allowing the use of multiple assessments – including “portfolios, projects, or extended-performance tasks” – as part of state systems. In addition, the law permits states to apply for an innovative assessment pilot, in order to develop and test new approaches to assessment.

A new report by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Learning Policy Institute discusses four assessment models state policymakers can consider as they draft their ESSA plans. The report, Developing and Measuring Higher Order Skills: Models for State Performance Assessment Systems, by Linda Darling-Hammond, provides examples of performance-based assessments used to measure higher-order skills and discusses what is needed to assure validity, reliability, and comparability in the use of such assessments.

All four models have been used successfully at scale in states and nations around the world. The models – which can also be combined in various ways – include:

  • Performance items or tasks as part of traditional ‘sit-down’ tests.
  • Curriculum-embedded tasks that are implemented in the classroom during the school year, assessing more complex sets of skills.
  • Portfolios or collections of evidence that aggregate multiple tasks to display a broad set of competencies in multiple domains or genres.
  • Comprehensive assessment systems that may include traditional tests, curriculum-embedded tasks, and portfolios and exhibitions leading to a student defense, each serving distinct and complementary purposes.

To read the report, see: