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Next Generation Learning: Assessments

“Next generation” learning is receiving some buzz in edtech circles, and so I thought we could delve into it a little more, not least because what I have discovered is a lot of NGO-style verbage, of the kind that is heavy on policy and light on real-world detail. I have tried to scratch below the NGO-ese in which most of the literature about this educational reform model is written, to really find out what it is, how it is working and for whom.

What is Next Generation Learning?

To begin with, let’s just explore very briefly what Next Generation Learning is. This is a concept promoted by a program called Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC), run by the non-profit Educause. NGLC’s ambition is to find and support schools, models and individuals that are innovating to dramatically improve college readiness and completion.

This will be the first blog in a series about NGLC, and today we will explore a NGLC grant recipient, Del Lago Academy, that has designed an innovative assessment model. Future posts will explore other grant recipients that are changing their educational models using innovative technology, curriculum, teacher engagement and cultural models.

The NGLC program is funded by heavy-weight donors such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. These foundations have developed a grant system, that is disbursed by the NGLC program, and so far over $40 million has been awarded to various K-12 schools and colleges throughout the US.

NGLC also has other non-grant component programs, such as the Breakthrough Models Academy which brought emerging educators together in a residential program, where they worked in teams to design “next generation learning models”. A second program is the Breakthrough Models Incubator, that works on site with selected colleges and schools to support and explore the design of new models, based on existing challenges.

Because we are primarily focused on K-12 in the blog, I thought we would drill down further into the grants program, and try to find examples of where NGLC has uncovered novel and interesting K-12 programs that are aiming to, and succeeding at, using technology to better prepare students for higher education. Today we’ll explore a new approach to assessments.

Next Generation Learning Assessments, a case study

Del Lago is a high school in Escondido, California focusing on preparing students in Applied Sciences for college and the workplace. Del Lago works on a founding principle that not only is Science and Technology going to be a key competency required by most workers of the future, but also that many students are underprepared for both college and the workplace in general.

They aim to fundamentally change the structure, content and community found in the more traditional school. One of the most important ways they have done that is with an innovative assessment model. No longer satisfied that an A- or D-grade represents very much more than a student's comprehension, the school has co-created an assessment system with their students called CompetencyX that is more granular in how it measures student skill, analyses, comprehension and communication. The program drew the attention of the NGLC, and Del Lago now receives funding for the staffing and implementation of CompetencyX.

Currently the program is rolled out in all of the school’s science and technology subjects, and will soon be rolled out across all of them. The program currently uses both the NGSS standards, as well as the ACT college readiness standards combined with industry feedback by way of student internships at real-world workplaces.

The foundation of the system is badging, which students designed or co-created with mentors and teachers.

Del Lago set about designing badges per key assessment area as laid out by the NGSS by grade. There are what they call “pathway badges”, key core standard milestones that must be reached. Students are then also required to design or select personal career goal badges to add to the collection of badges required. Badges are earned by collecting, collating and creating what the school calls “artifacts”. Each badge earned is then connected to a digital portfolio of artifacts, that demonstrates the mastery of the student’s skill, and can be used as additional CV and college entry material. Additionally, the school went to local biotech and other businesses to help create the credentials required to demonstrate competency, in this way the badges attain a high degree of validation. This is how a Del Lago badge works.

The school implemented a sophisticated online badging platform where each student can collate their badges and the artifact portfolios that validate them. They can share their work with each other, check assessment scores per pathway or badge, and even create and design their own badge icons. A further enhancement involves the school’s internship program where students and industry mentors co-create personalized badges to reflect individual skills and standards the student is expected to achieve while doing their internship.


This is a great case study, as it demonstrates how far we can go in reinventing traditional educational tropes such as grades, to develop better, more flexible, personalized, exciting and future-proof assessments that serve to truly empower a student's onward journey into college or the workplace.

Del Lago clearly deserves the NGLC grant and I look forward to introducing you to more grant recipients and their inspiring projects in future posts.

NEO Brochure: Assessing students using NEO

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