Designing assessment of student learning

Your team can create a school that has a broader focus on what students should know and be able to do. You can also choose and invent tools and processes that assess student learning beyond traditional means.

Defining student achievement

Many schools define student achievement beyond their school’s mean proficiency score, students’ standardized test scores, and students’ grades in reading, writing, and mathematics. Teams often choose to focus on individual growth, emphasizing mastery over seat time. Some also measure students’ development of cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

Sometimes a team’s definition of achievement leads it to use a different assessment approach, adding new assessments to those already required. Keep in mind that taking on additional assessments could impact your team’s decisions about budget expenditures and teachers’ roles.

Learning what’s required by your state, school district, or charter authorizer

It’s important to be clear about what assessments your team is required to give to students. Ultimately, your state department, school district, or charter authorizer is the best resource for learning what assessments are required.

Some teams have been able to arrange for autonomy regarding assessments required by districts and/or charter authorizers. This gives teams freedom to decide whether or when to give tests and if they should count toward students’ grades.

While negotiating autonomy from state assessments is not realistic, it might be possible for teams to negotiate with states, districts, or charter authorizers to evaluate school and student performance using multiple measures (not just a mean proficiency score). For example, one charter authorizer in Minnesota (Innovative Quality Schools) negotiates with teacher-powered teams on this basis.



Assessment for Good, a podcast from the Center for Collaborative Education, grapples with our experiences with traditional, and often oppressive, educational assessment practices. What if we could design assessments that help us understand what our students know and can do while ensuring love and compassion are not lost in the process? Our podcast explores what Assessment for Good looks like in schools and classrooms, so we can change assessment for good.

Designing an approach to assessment

Discussion Starters.

Teams starting or improving a teacher-powered school should use this resource to explore how to measure success and then readjust for greater success.


This website contains links to a number of parent and student survey documents from teacher-powered schools (High Marq, Valley New, and Wildlands) which they use as part of their strategy to measure success.

Negotiating assessment autonomy


Ronald J. Newell and Mark J. Van Ryzin offer a fresh perspective on student learning, including one practical way to inform discussions about schools as learning environments.

Journal article.

Read about one teacher-powered school’s effort to create a system of student assessment data to capture their vision of what students should know and do.


Watch Mission Hill teachers grapple with the news of changing assessment policy in their state and their discussion about challenging the status quo to do what is best for their students.

Defining student achievement


Some school designers choose to assess students for Habits of Mind, dispositions that empower creative and critical thinking (such as thinking flexibly and taking responsible risks).


Paul Tough argues that the qualities that matter most for children have to do with character, including perseverance, curiosity, optimism, and self-control.


The Partnership for 21st Century Skills suggests that students need a blend of content knowledge, specific skills, expertise, and literacies to succeed in work and life.


Chapter 9 describes how and why teacher-powered schools broaden the definition and scope of achievement and assessment.

Assessment tools chosen or invented by existing teacher-powered teams


What’s behind the phrase “authentic assessment?” Where do students and parents fit into assessment? At the teacher-powered Mission Hill K-8 school, teachers have made a commitment to the “logic of assessment” and to portfolio defenses.


This rubric developed by Phoenix High School teachers helps the teacher team to determine if their advisories (mixed-grade groupings of students who share a teacher-advisor) have the kind of culture they set-out to cultivate, and encourages implications for future practice.

Video series.

EdVisions Schools describes their assessment approach, which includes a focus on learning growth, public presentations, personal learning plans, electronic portfolios, and value-added measures such as life skills and The Hope Survey.


Some teacher-powered schools choose self-directed, project-based learning programs. They use rubrics like these to score students’ academic learning as well as their skills in public presentation, writing, problem solving, time management, analysis, teamwork, information retention, self advocacy, community interaction, and critical thinking.


The Hope Survey assesses students’ non-academic outcomes, such as self-efficacy, optimism, and problem solving ability so teams can evaluate what the school needs to adjust to better help its students improve these outcomes.


Teachers at TAGOS Leadership Academy developed this rubric to assess students’ intrinsic motivation, which they believe is related to students’ ability to take on increased responsibility and autonomy during different blocks of the school day.

PDF Document.

At the teacher-powered Minnesota New Country School, students must complete capstone projects and participate in public demonstrations of learning.


The Tripod Project offers survey assessments that capture key dimensions of school life and teaching practice as students experience them.