Reflections on a System of Assessments after "Curriculum Night"

Published sep. 10, 2018

I just got back from “Curriculum Night”—an annual tradition at my children's elementary school where parents sit in uncomfortably small chairs in overheated, cheerily decorated classrooms to hear from teachers about what our children will be learning this year. Starting in third grade, we also hear about preparations for our state testing, the MCAS. As my oldest is now in fourth grade, I listened keenly to hear how much of the year was devoted to test prep, as well as for all the other ways he will be evaluated.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the kid who spent hours in the kitchen this summer playing “mad scientist”—randomly mixing ingredients just for the fun of seeing what happens—has a teacher who can’t wait to get to the science units. Mrs. C plans to have them working in groups, “getting dirty and messy” with guppies, pill bugs, and earthworms. But by the end of the long night, I found myself wondering: Somewhere between state testing and engaging science modules, do either Mrs. C or I know whether we’re encouraging skills that will still be in demand when my son becomes an adult?

In my position at JFF, our organization's focus on the future of work always leads me to the critical role of the future of learning. Or, as we like to say, “the future of work depends on the future of learning.” As the demands for skills evolve and change, our K–12 systems must be ready to meet them.

The future of work depends on the future of learning.

To ensure we are instilling the full array of knowledge, skills, and behaviors each student needs to succeed, a high-quality system of assessments is key. How else will we be certain that our youth are prepared for the world beyond high school and of the workplace—particularly in the face of accelerating technological shifts? How else can we ensure their experiences in K–12 are robust, engaging, and prepare them to be the kind of creative, problem-solving adults we need? 

No single assessment can provide the range of information needed, but a high-quality system of assessments can provide actionable information and motivating assignments from and for classroom learning. 

I had the distinct pleasure this past year of working with over 20 of the country’s leading advocates to determine the 10 most important aspects of a high-quality assessment system. I invite you to explore our findings, as well as case studies of three states developing new systems of assessment with a close eye to local participation. We're also releasing three new research reports that dig deeper into assessment: measuring deeper learning via formative assessment; assessment to support student autonomy; and promoting school accountability for deeper learning.  

We’d love to know how you are using the 10 principles in your work, thinking, or materials. Please send a few sentences or any links to Thor Blanco-Reynoso, and we’ll share ideas. Please also share any feedback, ideas, or if you are looking to partner on work related to this research. Now, for a quick round of “mad scientist” before getting back to work!