High-quality assessments of student learning that address students’ and educators’ unique needs are essential tools for improving educational outcomes and comparing school and system performance in service of equity.

Following the pandemic’s vast disruptions in annual assessments and collection of student learning data, the call to capture multiple aspects of student outcomes, achievement and needs became even more significant. Assessments—re-imagined to meet the unique needs of end-users—can provide meaningful data that informs instruction and motivates students to invest in their learning. Our technical assistance has supported assessment leaders and stakeholders to develop assessment solutions that aim to impact students furthest from opportunity, educators’ instructional practices and the communities in which they thrive.

At Education First, we use the principles of equitable design, based on the framework and tools developed by Christine Ortiz from Equity Meets Design, to place people at the heart of the design process. Our collaborative approach with system leaders, educators and students has supported a range of innovations, including computer-adaptive assessments that deepen student learning, measures for comprehensive graduate portfolios, designs for through-year assessments and more. Here are some reflections from leaders that have engaged in this work:

“I think as a sector we need to broaden our conception of what assessment means. When you start with people most proximate to the problem who have been poorly served by the system in the past, it quickly becomes clear that the misalignment goes well beyond the surface. Starting by asking who assessments are for and why is critical.

“Without the intentional focus on equity and listening to people most proximate to the problem, we would likely be so caught up in the work of assessment that we would not be doing things in the right way with stakeholders.”

“The time to prototype has been a gift. It is hard to shift mindsets because everyone wants to know where we are going to end up, but again, our final product will be much stronger because of the prototyping even though it meant gray areas along the way.”

“The equitable design process led to some valuable conversations about our theory of action and how the assessment will contribute to greater equity. We have also done more focus groups, interviews and surveys than we otherwise would have, so that we are really listening to the people proximate to the problem.”

State education agencies (SEAs), charter management organizations (CMOs) and practitioners need to ensure access to assessments that meet the demands of a diverse student population and the adults who support them. Assessments are pivotal for addressing and accelerating student outcomes. Are you ready to design innovative student assessments? Innovate with us—click here to learn more about our approach and impact, or contact us for support.