About Assessment at Workspace.
by Tom Curley
Director of Programming
Many families involved in or considering alternatives to traditional schools, including homeschooling, have questions about grading, assessments, and transcripts, as these are critical in both evaluating their child’s progress and in applying to colleges and/or jobs.
We have a strong awareness and understanding both of these concerns and of the topic of assessment itself in a broader sense. I have spent the last 20 years working at independent schools around New England, which has given me a strong background in looking at assessment in more traditional environments. On the other hand, there is a lot about how our culture has forced students, teachers, and schools into assessment paradigms that has made me uncomfortable for a long time. Thanks to Workspace, I’m now getting to explore the more progressive side of things!
So we’d like to explain some of the things we do here at Workspace related to these issues. Before we do, though, let’s answer an important question: “What is assessment?” At its core, assessment simply means taking stock of where a learner is in relation to where they have been and where they want to go. It marks their progress in a way that informs them, their teacher, and anyone else, including their parents and college admissions professionals.
It’s a topic of heated debate, and as Bruce Dixon put it on Modern Learners, “has come to be detested by students, commodified by corporations, leveraged by textbook and tutoring companies, and exploited by politicians.” Now, if assessment is so simple, why do we get so anxious about it? Primarily because the American education system values so-called “high-stakes” assessment, like state tests, SATs, final exams, term papers, and the like. When there is a lot riding on any one assessment, it becomes a focus of attention and anxiety.
But it doesn’t have to be so stressful. Here at Workspace we return to the basic definition above. Where is the learner now? Where are they trying to get to? Where are their gaps, what are their strengths? How can we best help them learn?
At Workspace, just about anything can be an assessment: A conversation, a piece of artwork, a prototype on the 3D printer. Doesn’t that sound a little more practical and less “high-stakes?” We think that’s because it is. In educational jargon these are called “formative assessments.” So our learners are assessed, but in a manner that points to the direction of instruction or learning. These assessments help learners learn better, and reflect the learning more accurately.
Now, testing is not all bad. A lot of recent research indicates that testing as a tool for learning is very useful, which we can discuss in a future post. For now, the question is, “How can we best communicate to others about how learners have done or are doing in their learning?”
In most schools, this most often takes the form of grades, report cards, and GPAs. A growing number of schools are taking a “competency-based” approach, which is educational jargon for a set of skills that they want every student to have when they graduate. Every school is different, but usually students receive feedback throughout their learning cycles focused on helping the student move towards the competencies they want/need. These systems are not focused on seat time, passing or failing, or set canons of knowledge. When learners demonstrate mastery, it gets recognized.
One way to do that, today, is through digital badges, which differ from grades in that they are easily transportable from one institution to another, and they contain an explanation of how the learner earned the badge. Ours will also contain a link to the work the learner did to earn the badge all of which is again competency-based.
Now, part of the genius of Workspace is that parents and learners create their own educational pathway, with no set rules, so we don’t have a set of policies or codes surrounding assessment. We do feel that competency is a far better way to approach 21st-century education than the traditional model, emphasizing five skills we see as critical to success in the project-based real world of the future: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Compassion, and Critical Thinking.
21CI is essentially a competency-based approach, focusing on these skills which help create happy, lifelong learners. And what do we give students who have achieved competency or mastery? A digital badge! We are creating our own badging system using the Badgr platform (LINK: https://badgr.com/ ) that will be available to all of our families, and that will help them to demonstrate their learner’s knowledge, achievement, and progress in an understandable way that fits into the digital future.
So there you have it: an overview of what assessment is, what we at Workspace think it can be, and how we are going about getting there. Because we offer all sorts of different educational experiences, there are all sorts of approaches! Learners here can choose from classes with more traditional grades, just as they can choose ones with digital badges. Parents can then use all of those to build portfolios and transcripts. If you have any questions, feel free to set up a call or visit and our team can discuss these and any other questions you might have about what see as the future of learning.