Advances in Skill Assessments

Over the last century, in most schools in the U.S. and abroad, students have been evaluated on their academic performance based on a grading scale. Tests, quizzes, homework assignments, and projects are typically assigned a letter or number grade. Sometimes grades are aligned with standards or objective rubrics, but in many cases they are more subjective. In Opportunity Education’s Quest Forward Learning, a student’s success in school is determined by their development of skills and habits.

One of our priorities is to develop an assessment system that helps students, mentors, families, and OE understand students’ progress towards developing skills. Moreover, the system should provide an opportunity for students to obtain feedback that will help them continue to improve their skills as they work on quests and courses throughout their entire time in high school. Each Quest Forward course is built around a skills framework (read more about the skills framework here) and within the courses, students work on quests that help them develop these skills. Ideally, students will become proficient with the skills and associated behaviors aligned with these courses. Creating a method for assessing the progression of these skills is critical for student success.

In designing the skills assessment practices and tools we have a few priorities:

  1. We want students to be active participants in the assessment process, assessing themselves and reflecting on their progress.
  2. We want assessment to be embedded in the work students are already doing and based on performances and evidence. This makes quests, activities, and artifacts natural places for skill assessments to take place.
  3. We want assessment to be formative – something that occurs often to help students get feedback and improve as they work on quests. The assessment process should help students to develop skills, rather than only providing a score or grade after work is complete.
  4. We want assessment to help mentors support individual students. Assessment should promote conversations and provide insightful data that helps mentors to customize the experience for students and modify and supplement quests as needed.

The R&E team, along with a few mentors from the two Quest Forward Academies, spent the last 6 months prototyping different skill assessment tools and processes and from various options, we have decided to move forward with one concept. The rest of this post summarizes this concept and how skill assessment works. We are simulating this through use of digital forms in the short-term and anticipating the process will be available in the Quest! app later this year. Once implemented, all students and mentors enrolled in a course built around a skills framework will be able to use the skill assessment features.

This image is a paper prototype, but it shows a scale similar to what will be available in the Quest! app and highlights the process students go through as they reflect on a skill. In this example, the student was reflecting on the skill “take a position” in their Reading, Writing, Thinking course.

When starting new levels and new quests, mentors and students will see which skills are most important and should be assessed. Students can self-assess and mentors can assess their students on any skill, at any time. However, research has shown the most ideal times to assess are during an activity, artifact, quest, and/or level, or soon after the work is complete. These are moments when there will be clear evidence to help make informed decisions about student skill levels. When a student decides to assess themselves on a skill, after completing a quest for example, they see a scale and make their selection. They add a comment to describe their rationale for selecting what they did.

Likewise, mentors follow a similar process by selecting where they feel the student falls on this scale.

Results and information are shared after students and mentors complete a skill assessment. This graph summarizes past assessments on 1 skill. The student self-assessed and the mentor assessed at three time points. In this representation a 1 = Not familiar and a 10 = Mastery.

After assessing, students and mentors immediately see a graph of the current and past assessments for that skill, including responses from both the student and mentors. They can review all assessments for that skill or skills and discuss patterns together. Post assessment is an opportunity for mentors to provide specific feedback to students and strategies students can use to further develop their skills.

As an organization, we strive to evolve and adapt to the changing world we live in. This method of assessing skills addresses the need for education to be focused on globally relevant skills and habits. It will provide insights into strengths and challenges of individual students, which will assist mentors as they help students develop skills. Additionally, the data from these assessments will inform our work with Quest Forward Learning, allowing us to continue to improve our curriculum, methodology, and platform to ensure all students are obtaining the skills and habits to make them successful in their future.