Assessment in a Personalized, Competency-Based Learning Environment

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Topics: Assessment and Accountability

In a personalized, competency-based learning environment, the purpose of assessment is no longer just to determine what students know or don’t know. Assessment exists “for” learning as well as “of” learning. Students view assessments as a part of the learning process, meant to highlight their strengths and focus on what they still need to practice. Creating a culture of assessment for learning shifts the discussion between teachers and students. It’s not just about a letter grade.

In a traditional system, students are given the same assessment at the same time. All of the teaching and presumably the learning has taken place. Students typically wait until this time to ask, “What will be on the test?” “Can we have a study guide?” They may be more interested in how they score compared to others around them and if they “passed.” As a biology teacher, I found it difficult to engage the students in discussion after an assessment. They were reluctant to reflect on their learning, seeing the assessment as final with no opportunity to improve.

But in a personalized learning environment, more emphasis is placed on formative checks for understanding, rather than waiting for the summative assessment to discover if learning has taken place. Assessment results should never be a surprise – students should not feel the need to ask, “Have you graded it yet?” “How did I do?” They should have a clear sense of where they are in the learning process and whether they are ready to show their progress.

Assessments are no longer limited to paper and pencil tests made up of multiple choice, matching, short answer and essay questions that are given at set times. Formative checks can vary from one-on-one conferencing between the teacher and student to performance-based tasks initiated by the students. They occur when the student feels ready and can be undertaken as often as needed to master the knowledge or skill.

In a personalized, competency-based classroom, student agency plays a vital role in the value and purpose of assessment. Students practice evaluating their own work using rubrics, proficiency scales, etc. They collaborate with peers to push their learning forward, using strategies for peer editing and effective feedback. This is a big shift in the role of students and teachers – students taking ownership over their learning and not depending solely on the teacher to determine whether their ideas, answers, products, etc. are “good enough.”

Because it’s not about the grade. It’s about the process.

The Role of the Teacher in a Personalized, Competency-Based Classroom answers questions like “How will teachers determine whether or not a student has demonstrated mastery?” or “What’s the difference between teacher-centered and student-centered classrooms?”