The Digital Badge way

Finding new ways to assess growth and learning in a PBL world

photo credit via the Journal

Education is so deeply rooted in standardized testing that it is hard imagine new ways to assess student growth and proficiency.

As a policy, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had a large impact on reinforcing the fixation of testing. After 10 plus years, what remains of NCLB are students underprepared for college entrance exams and worse, many under performers were reclassified as “disabled” to avoid accountability

Since it has been discovered that testing does not directly correlate to growth, this topic came up in the Education Secretary confirmation hearing of Betsy DeVos. Minnesota Senator Al Franken asked her to describe her views in the relative advantage of using assessments to measure proficiency versus growth. Franken’s preference for growth over proficiency is supported by an NYU study which surveyed American Education Finance Association (AEFA) members. The majority of members saw more value in growth-based or value-added metrics, which measure students’ year over year growth, than proficiency-based “raw test scores” when evaluating successful schools and methods.

This is exacerbated when you take into account low-income, at-risk, potentially high-achievers who do not fit the model of traditional test takers. One study finds between 25,000 and 35,000 children fall into this category. Solutions are difficult because creating tests to identify these children and putting them in programs that encourage achievement is no small feat.

Strict and singular focus on standards-based testing models provide only a small slice of the entire student picture. But there is a problem — while recognizing over-testing has done little to provide true insight for growth. The problem is further enhanced by the increasingly project based learning methods incorporated into classrooms. New ways of assessing learning are gaining attention as educators work to prepare students for the jobs of the future.

Enter digital badges as a guide. Badges provide a new way to measure progress in unconventional ways. It is a digital credential earned by gaining concrete knowledge in a broad range of areas from community service to robotics.

This new approach to providing credentials for students who do not thrive in the traditional learning environments has yet to earn full creditability in higher education establishments who typically value grades, as well as in the workplace which is just beginning to understand badges.

Some cities are moving forward into uncharted territory. US Mayors in eight cities are testing and adopting new credentials for learning networks awarding digital badges to students who demonstrate proficiency in topics.

Companies are also beginning to show support for digital badges with over 83% of surveyed hiring managers stating they preferred digital badges when verifying a candidate’s work skills. Furthermore, educators should provide these opportunities for students before they interview.

The objective shouldn’t be to completely drop these practices from our schools, but to discover and understand why they work or don’t work and what we can learn from them. The days of employing traditional methods of testing have changed as the definition of achievement comes into question.

As project-based learning increases in importance in schools, alternative methods for assessment are making a much stronger showing as well.