Student Self-Assessment Boosts Learner Agency at FlexTech

Topics: Assessment and Accountability

Guest post by Sarah Pazur, who is the director of school leadership at FlexTech High School in Michigan, a public charter school whose three campuses serve more than 500 students.

FlexTech High Schools, a network of three project- and competency-based high schools in Michigan, were on a quest to boost learner agency – and we knew that student self-assessment needed to play a role.

Competency-based assessment plays a significant role in project-based learning. A compelling essential question may spark curiosity, provoke discourse and lead the student to research, but clearly defined competencies provide the learner the transparency they need to build enduring understandings across disciplines. Teachers who leverage the power of self-assessment can significantly raise student achievement by teaching students self-regulatory processes. Students who can compare their performance against a clearly defined criteria (such as our competency scales) and revise their work accordingly, see academic gains (Andrade, 2010; Hattie and Timperly, 2007; Pintrich, 2000; Zimmerman & Schunk, 2004). In addition to boosting academic achievement, self-assessment has been shown to improve motivation, engagement, and efficacy (Munns & Woodward, 2006; Schunk, 1996).

Despite our students’ enthusiasm for project-based learning, we found that when it came to discussing what they learned, many of our learners struggled to articulate where they were on the mastery scale. After some research and reflection, it struck us that the adults in the building maintained control over competency assessment. We were rarely asking students to tell us where they were on their learning trajectory as their projects unfolded.

We chose to pilot three distinct self-assessment tools: the Rainbow Rubric which asked students to assess their mastery of procedures, concepts and real-world application throughout a project-based investigation; an “I Can” board that students used to communicate their mastery of a daily lesson or task that related to a larger project investigation; and a student self-evaluation survey given to the student via a Google Form where they reported their mastery of a specific content area competency.

The preliminary results of our pilot showed promising strides in learner agency. In six months, we met our target of 60 percent of the students using evidence to discuss where they are on their learning. In some classrooms, nearly 100 percent of the students interviewed demonstrated the use of self-assessment and could discuss their learning progress relative to the school’s mastery scale.

Focus group interviews revealed that students saw value in using self-assessment.

One student shared that, “I feel like it’s a way for students to tell teachers that they need help without having to say it out loud. Maybe they are afraid to speak up.”

Another student reflected that the teacher “uses the information to cater to us.”

Teachers reported that students showed more ownership over the learning process and were more self-aware of the learning target as they moved through a project. They felt the tools gave students a common language to talk about their progress on the project overall and an opportunity to think about the discreet skills and tasks that a large project requires.

But implementing self-assessment tools was not the end game for us – it was the first step toward boosting learner agency. We are now coaching teachers on how to best use the self-assessment information that students provide them. This year, our professional development will help teachers develop specific instructional strategies, such as inquiry-driven dialog, to move students along the mastery continuum. We launched the school year with a renewed vigor for transparent, learner-focused assessment.

FlexTech High School’s Vanguard team is made up of educators who want to serve as a resource for their peers.


Andrade, H. (2010). Students as the definitive source of formative assessment: Academic self-assessment and the self-regulation of learning. In Heidi L Andrade & Gregory J Cizek. (Eds.) Handbook of Formative Assessment. New York: Routledge, 90-105.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.

McMillan, James H. SAGE Handbook of Research on Classroom Assessment . Los Angeles: SAGE, 2013.

Munns, G.  & Woodward, H. (2006) Student engagement and student self‐assessment: the REAL framework, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 13:2, 193-213.

Pintrich, P. R. (2000). Multiple goals, multiple pathways: The role of goal orientation in learning and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(3), 544-555.

Schunk, D. H. (1996). Goal and Self-Evaluative Influences During Children’s Cognitive Skill Learning. American Educational Research Journal, 33(2), 359–382.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Schunk, D. H. (2004). Self-Regulating Intellectual Processes and Outcomes: A Social Cognitive Perspective. In D. Y. Dai, & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), Motivation, Emotion, and Cognition: Integrative Perspectives on Intellectual Functioning and Development (pp. 323-349). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.