Great Schools Partnership

Assessment Pathways Simplified

The goal of Proficiency-Based Learning Simplified is to ensure that students acquire the most essential knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in school, higher education, the modern workplace, and adult life. Therefore, systems of assessment and verifying proficiency should prioritize enduring knowledge and skills—i.e., graduation standards and related performance indicators.

The graphic below provides a simplified overview of the major features of an assessment system to help educators understand how certain elements work together in a school, district, or other system. Specifically, the graphic illustrates (1) five different assessment pathways that schools might use to evaluate student work and proficiency, (2) the degree of instructional flexibility and student choice that attends each option, and (3) the potential compromises and outcomes that result from each pathway, including consistency in results. Pathways 1–4 represent four proficiency-based approaches to assessment, while pathway 5 represents an assessment scenario that will not result in a commonly applied definition of proficiency.

The following definitions will help to explain the graphic in greater detail:

Learning Experience
refers to any instructional interaction, course, program, or other experience in which student learning takes place, whether it occurs in traditional academic settings (schools, classrooms) or nontraditional settings (outside-of-school locations, natural environments), or whether it includes traditional educational interactions (e.g., students learning from teachers, professors, or support staff) or nontraditional interactions (e.g., students learning through internships, service-learning experiences, or online learning platforms).

Demonstration Task
refers to any form of assessment that educators use to determine whether student have met expected learning standards and outcomes. A demonstration task could be a traditional test or quiz; a writing assignment or other work product; a presentation, exhibition, or capstone experience; or a portfolio of work that students compile over time.

Scoring Guide
refers to rubrics, scoring criteria, or other tools and guidelines that educators use to evaluate assessments and student work against a set of learning standards. Scoring guides establish the expectations for learning—i.e., the definition of proficiency and the criteria against which it will be measured. In a proficiency-based system, common scoring guides are necessary to ensure greater validity, reliability, and comparability of learning outcomes, particularly when students are pursuing personalized learning pathways.

Student Choice 
refers to instructional approaches or techniques that are based on student interests, passions, or ambitions, and the degree to which educators give students choices during the educational process. When learning experiences, demonstration tasks, and scoring guides are common, students will inevitably be given less choice during the learning process; when all three are unique, more student choice is possible, but it is also harder for educators to maintain consistent learning expectations, assessment practices, and proficiency determinations across different educational experiences, content areas, or grade levels.

Valid and Reliable
refers to the degree to which learning outcomes can be validated—or “certified”—by educators in a school, and to the degree of confidence educators have in results of the assessment process. (*In this case, the term valid and reliable is being used in the sense of “defensible education results based on evidence,” not in the technical psychometric sense used by developers of large-scale assessments and standardized tests). It is also important to note that “valid and reliable” results are only a potential outcome of each assessment pathway option—such results are not assured, although common scoring guides can significantly increase the likelihood that the assessment process will result in grades and academic reports that can be considered both valid and reliable.

refers to the ability of educators to have a high degree of assurance that proficiency assessments are consistent from student to student and teacher to teacher. When results are comparable, educators have a high degree of confidence that a consistent judgment about learning results and “proficiency” has been made. While specific learning outcomes may differ from student to student (some will learn more, others less), comparability is achieved when the same definition of proficiency has been consistently applied across diverse students, learning experiences, and subject areas.

→ Download Assessment Pathways Simplified (.pdf)

→ Download in Spanish Language Vías de evaluación: un esquema simplificado (.pdf)

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