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Author: Tony Siddall

WestEd’s Student Agency in Assessment & Learning Project

September 16, 2016 by

generic-schoolThis post is adapted from the Next Generation Learning Challenges‘ Friday Focus.

Last week I had the pleasure of joining about 30 educators for the summer leadership session of WestEd’s Student Agency in Assessment & Learning (SAAL) project. Like many professional learning experiences, we spent some time watching classroom videos. But this time, we were instructed not to focus on instruction. Instead, we watched the students, who were giving each other feedback about strategies to decompose three digit numbers. Not checking answers, not checking procedures — discussing the pros and cons of how each student approached the problem.

Though there are many definitions of student agency, there’s nothing like seeing it in action.

WestEd’s SAAL project is a part of the Assessment for Learning Project (ALP), an initiative led by the Center for Innovation in Education in partnership with NGLC. The projects in the ALP network range from individual schools to state-level initiatives, but from different vantage points and with different levers to pull, they’re all asking the same core questions:

  • How can we design and implement systems of ongoing formative assessment that support student learning, rather than simply evaluating students?
  • How can we go beyond academic achievement to measure a broader range of the skills and dispositions necessary for success in college, career, and community?
  • How can assessment empower students to develop greater agency in their own learning?

The SAAL project asks how formative assessment practices — at both the teacher and student level — can contribute to learner agency. WestEd is working with three districts – Chandler Unified and Sunnyside Unified in Arizona, and Blachly School District in Oregon – to explore how teachers can cultivate student agency in learning and assessment. All of the participant teachers in these districts completed the six-month online digital learning experience, Formative Assessment Insights developed by the SAAL team and funded by the Hewlett Foundation, which laid the foundation for the current project.

Like all ALP projects, SAAL is testing a hypothesis, and it’s too early to draw final conclusions. But I was struck by the way that the WestEd team is structuring their inquiry. Through action research in close partnership with teachers and instructional leaders, they’re examining two essential issues: What does is truly mean to be “student centered?” And, how we need to think differently about instructional design and assessment to cultivate student agency?

The Power of Focusing on Student Learning

As part of the SAAL project, teachers will record videos of their classrooms, and use these videos to reflect on the learning behaviors students are engaged in. Specifically, teachers will focus on the degree to which students are self-assessing, and engaging in peer feedback discussions. The WestEd team has developed a prototype “continuum” of observable student behaviors related to these two learning practices. The project lead at WestEd, Margaret Heritage, noted that when people “rate” the teacher in the video we watched using rubrics for instructional practice, the ratings are uniformly high. But when they use the continuum of student behaviors, the result is much more mixed. (more…)

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