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Micro-credentials: Ushering in teacher-driven performance assessments in the age of ESSA

This blog post was originally published by the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE). 

Our nation’s public schools are now ready to capitalize on teacher-driven performance assessments. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—enacted in late 2015—has spurned one-size-fits-all federal accountability policy while fueling innovative and locally-derived measures of student learning. The student testing demanded by ESSA is reminiscent of the portfolio assessments of the late 1980s and early 1990s. But those reforms faltered, in part, because our nation’s pre- and in-service prep programs have typically shortchanged teachers’ assessment design and analysis skills. However, new opportunities abound with an emerging competency-based approach to teachers’ professional learning—micro-credentials—which could support practitioners to ramp up their performance assessment skills with efficiency and rigor.

The emerging micro-credential movement

Over the past two years, the nonprofit organization Digital Promise has been building an ecosystem to advance the design, development, and implementation of research-backed, evidence-based micro-credentials. And with good reason. In a recent national survey, Digital Promise found that only one in five teachers are satisfied with their current PD experiences, while 72 percent are already engaged in informal learning.

Rather than focusing on “seat time” in traditional PD workshops, micro-credentials are awarded based on the evidence of a teacher’s learning (which might include portfolios, video, student work, observations, etc.). Each micro-credential spells out the competency, recommended methods of learning, related research and resources, the type(s) of evidence to submit, and the relevant rubric and scoring guide.  This approach personalizes educators’ learning, is available on-demand, and provides practitioners with a digital badge they can display. (See Digital Promise video here.)

Dozens of organizational partners with content expertise, including the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ), have developed more than 120 micro-credentials to address a variety of educator skills and competencies. These are available through an online platform that facilitates selection, submission, assessment, and awarding.

The performance assessment connection

The Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) and CTQ, in collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Education, are creating a stack of micro-credentials to develop and assess the leadership skills of teachers who can effectively lead new student performance reforms. Funded by a start-up grant from the Center for Innovation in Education (CIE), in partnership with Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC), we have convened a team of teachers from ten Rhode Island schools to develop three micro-credential “stacks” that address:

  • Designing valid and reliable performance assessment tasks;
  • Embedding, instructing, and assessing habits and dispositions; and  
  • Building and leading a performance assessment learning community.

Teachers who pursue these micro-credentials will develop portfolios of evidence indicating their performance assessment expertise.

Still, more work needs to done.

States can begin to recognize micro-credentials for re-licensure credit and establish virtual networks for teachers to learn from each other in earning them. Districts can transfer a portion of their PD dollars to teachers in support of their earning micro-credentials in the growing marketplace of professional learning. And unions can advance new collective bargaining agreements that create time, and reward teachers, for spreading their expertise through micro-credentials.

We can seize the opportunity ESSA has presented to assemble powerful measures of deeper learning outcomes. As high-stakes, multiple-choice testing makes its exit, let’s create the infrastructure that equips teachers to build and sustain the 21st-century accountability system that all students deserve.

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