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Beyond the Horizon

Blazing a Trail Toward Learner-Centered School Quality Systems

October 3, 2023

In our new publication, we share recommendations to move from our current systems of assessment and accountability toward equitable, learner-centered school quality systems. These recommendations were co-created with students, caregivers and educators as well as district, state and national leaders, all working alongside organizations representing the student-centered learning community.

A problem facing our current system

The nation’s current education systems leave young people unprepared for life after school and concentrates opportunity to a select and predictable few. Too much of a student’s success can be predicted by their race, economic position, ZIP code and other markers of identity. Long-standing disconnects around the purpose of education, varied levels of investment, approaches to instruction and expected outcomes have all contributed to a growing chorus across the nation on what to do next: we must build systems that center learners and their communities.

Finding solutions with those closest to the work

We can learn from student-centered learning communities as we seek to evolve our school quality systems and ground them in common goals and flexible approaches to improvement.

Our bold new vision for assessing school quality honors the unique context of each learning community, while also ensuring the quality of every learner’s experience. This vision is articulated through five themes for transformation and includes recommendations to our nation’s leaders for setting the course for the future of assessment and accountability.

Widespread adoption of student-centered school quality systems will require transformation at each level of the system, from support for those closest to the classroom and ending with federal policy. Alignment of these systems with clear roles and a shared commitment to student success can have a transformative impact on the U.S. K-12 education system.

To achieve this vision for transforming school quality systems, we must prioritize:

Diagram of the five priorities
  1. Shared Purpose: Shift from top-down school quality systems toward reciprocal systems that center those closest to the learning
  2. Defining and Validating Learning: Shift from traditional notions of student success toward models that embrace essential knowledge and transferable skills
  3. Holistic and Reciprocal School Quality Measures: Shift from heavy reliance on a single assessment measure to systems that report on holistic data at each level of the system to strengthen reciprocity, transparency and ownership
  4. Data and Improvement: Shift from the punitive use of data to data use for continuous improvement
  5. Systems Change: Shift from incremental, disconnected change efforts toward sustained transformation
Image of Beyond the Horizon front cover

The path ahead

In Beyond the Horizon: Blazing a Trail Toward Learner-Centered School Quality Systems, learn more about the identified transformation themes, key strategies toward achieving them and policy concepts to explore. See the start of a learning agenda to enrich the design of future policies and systems focused on school quality.


The following organizations have signed on in support of these recommendations:
Get updates on  advancements KnowledgeWorks is making to advance learner-centered school quality systems.
Photos by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

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