Author: Justin Elliott

The Challenges of a Large, Diverse School District and the Promises of Performance Assessment Micro-credentials

December 2, 2019 by

This post originally appeared at the Center for Collaborative Education on November 13, 2019.

Backpack With Micro-credentials Inside

In our large, urban school district—Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky—we are challenging ourselves to do more than ask students to bubble in circles to “prove” what they know. We are expecting students to demonstrate and provide evidence of their abilities, skills, and dispositions. We know we are not alone. Across the world, schools are creating profiles of learners and portraits of graduates to describe the aspirations of their students. Schools are organizing exhibitions, demonstrations, presentations, and defenses of learning. Schools are planning learning experiences that are engaging and relevant, and that recognize that a person’s agency grows when their work is applied to the world.

At the more than 150 Jefferson County Public Schools, this has proven to be a worthy and large task. We have set the bar high—we want to ensure that every student, every year:

  • will create multiple, high-quality, ideally interdisciplinary products or performances to add to their digital portfolio, which in JCPS we call the Backpack of Success Skills.
  • will experience meaningful learning equitably no matter their ability or background.
  • will be empowered to determine the evidence upon which their abilities and dispositions will be judged.

As soon as the bar was set, the challenge was obvious to us. Normally, our students did not have a wide body of evidence to include in their “Backpack of Success Skills” or to use in a presentation or defense of their learning. They had too few meaningful learning experiences to refer to when discussing their Success Skills. There wasn’t much evidence of students being the agents in their own learning, of meeting the aspirations set by the Success Skills.

The Challenges

This has raised a problem of practice for teachers all across the district: How do we design learning experiences and assessments that require and create the opportunity for students to produce evidence of learning and growth?

And a problem of practice for district leaders: How do we support teachers in this design, in ways that do not undermine the principles of agency and authenticity that we know under-gird all constructivist approaches to teaching and learning, including this newest iteration – deeper learning.

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