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How Do You Measure Learning?

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It's not a new question, but it's certainly a divisive one -- how to best measure student learning. As the Department of Education works toward finding a way to assess student learning beyond what most agree are sub-par standardized tests, and movement for opting out of assessments grows, educators and those who work in the education system are attempting to define the criteria for themselves.

At the Big Ideas Fest a few months ago, where teachers, administrators, entrepreneurs and policymakers gathered to parse valuable ideas and figure out how to bring them to action, we asked a few participants their opinion on how to measure learning. Their answers showed the broad range of the differences in opinion.

"It depends on how you define what we mean by learning," said Neeru Khosla, founder of CK12, a nonprofit open education source for free Web-based content in the form of digital "Flexbooks." Our current form of assessment only measures what students know "in the moment," she said. But what we should be measuring is dynamic learning -- how students can understand a concept and how they can apply it based on what information they have.

Art teacher Constance Moore from Oakland, Calif., suggested that students assess their own work. "They can reflect on their own learning and drive their own progress so they can take it where they need to go," she said. It's unfair to use the same measurement for every student, she said. That kind of assessment has no meaning.

Kaycee Eckhart, who teaches at Sci Academy, a public charter school in New Orleans with a high special education population, believes she would do a disservice to her students to dismiss standardized testing outright.


"There are so many ways to measure student growth," she said. "I'm not against standardized testing and multiple choice testing. It's one way we need to assess kids,"in light of the fact that students need to be prepared to take tests like the SAT to get into college. "It's unfair of me to say we'll never take one of those tests. 'We're going to do all creative learning, and by the way, when you're a junior there'll be a really hard test, and don't worry about it.'"

Even taking standardized tests, she says, requires learning a skill set -- things like understanding questions and deciding between two difficult choices.

Embedding assessments in the context of what students are learning at the time would be ideal, according to Bernadette Adam Yates, senior research analyst in the Department of Education's Office of Education Technology, which recently launched Evidence Framework for Innovation and Excellence in Education. "So you're getting feedback, instruction is changing, adapting to what kids need," she said. "It's a hard thing to do."

Watch the full interview here.

Produced by Matthew Williams