Tired of the same old student evaluations? This fund wants to help

Credit: Lillian Mongeau / EdSource today

A student displays a geometric figure she built with straws in a core math class in her third grade class.

Teachers who have long dreamed of alternatives to traditional student assessment methods now have the opportunity to put their prototypes to the test.

Wednesday, the Higher education research and development fund, an initiative that funds inclusive research and development projects on teaching and learning, announced a new national effort to analyze and reduce the achievement gaps between low-income K-12 students and high income, called Evaluation for good.

“As districts embark on innovative and cutting-edge teaching formats this fall, assessment must also evolve in complementary ways,” said Temple Lovelace, director of the Assessment for Good program. “It’s time for our assessment practices to foster promise and stimulate learning in new and imaginative ways. “

High-quality research and development programs have quickly brought innovations like a Covid-19 vaccine from idea to reality. But educational settings often lack the time and funding to foster the links between practitioners and those who study the process of learning to successfully implement strategies that work.

With a total of $ 200 million, the fund will support project proposals from teachers, researchers, parents or product developers on how assessment could be improved. By 2023, the program will select about five research ideas over three to five years with budgets of $ 20 to $ 40 million.

Assessment for Good announced on Wednesday that it is search for proposals for funding available for projects aimed at creative ways to assess student learning and “how learning environments support specific aspects of students’ emotional and identity development”. It is also call on educators and other experts for information and ideas on how the assessment might be done differently overall.

The initiative is already working with three founding school districts, including a California district, Vista Unified, a large suburban district of San Diego County.

“I hope this will help strengthen the case for greater public investment and support for long-term educational R&D (research and development),” said Stacey Childress, CEO of the Higher education research and development fund. “Just as the country invests in breakthroughs in sectors like medicine and energy, our programs will pursue ambitious goals in multiple areas that will help better understand what is possible for student learning and opportunities. “

The researchers behind the program say the overarching goal is to move away from the status quo of supporting and measuring the success of students in poverty, from math classes to discipline.

According to American research institutes, 21% of Latino students and 36% of black students nationwide were suspended or kicked out of high school from 2009 to 2012, far more than their white (14%) or Asian (6%) peers. Suspensions prevent students from attending class and miss out on crucial learning time, and program officials are interested in solutions that link assessment to the systemic challenges black and Latino students face in schools .

“As a team, we believe we can impact both of these areas of concern by creating better ways to gather information about the environment that students have experienced each day,” said Lovelace. “We also believe that the current tools we use to collect information can be redesigned. “

A particular challenge that program directors point out is that black and Latino students are often over-represented in special education classes. One of the goals of the program is to reverse this trend and increase access to rigorous math courses for groups of students who have historically been placed in lower level or remedial courses at disproportionate rates. .

The group is also interested in ways in which parents can be more involved in measuring progress and in ways to take into account the social and emotional needs around the assessment.

The Assessment for Good program will live alongside the existing research and development fund effort called EF + Math, which aims to improve both mathematical performance and executive function, which refers to the brain processes that allow humans to plan. , focus their attention, remember instructions and juggle. multiple tasks successfully. The EF + Math program also funds research efforts, but with a focus on improving math outcomes for students in Grades 3 through 8.

Launched in 2019, EF + Math has rewarded several submissions and now works with more than 200 partners ranging from teachers to product developers. The winning projects include a game called Fraction Ball, created by a team from UC Irvine’s School of Education and teachers from the El Sol Academy of Sciences and Arts in Santa Ana.

In Fraction Ball, a basketball court is divided into units so that students can draw whole point fractions and add up their total scores. The goal is to help students learn rational numbers on the basketball court using the cognition-based hypothesis that game-based active learning can improve student number sense and fluency. with factions.

One of the central goals of Assessment for Good and EF + Math is to reduce the time it takes to translate research into groundbreaking programs such as Fraction Ball, which have the potential to enhance student learning.

“Success in math is essential for success in life,” said Melina Uncapher, EF + Math Program Director. “Every youngster is already equipped with the skills to learn everything, especially rigorous math. They deserve to be challenged with the best resources and opportunities. We focus on affirming the sparkle that already exists in every student by creating research-based, student-centered math learning systems.

According to Lovelace, the types of assessment innovations the program will seek out could include more play-based programs like Fraction Ball, wearable technology, or assessments that consider social and emotional health. Selected proposals will be evaluated by third-party researchers, Childress said. The first request for proposals will be open from August 15 to September 7. 1.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Walton Family Foundation together provided the $ 200 million for the program. In addition to Assessment for Good and EF + Math, the research and development fund plans to expand to five inclusive R&D programs on different topics by the end of 2023.

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