Learner-Centered Metrics That Matter in the Pandemic (and Beyond)

Devin Vodicka

At a time when our educational system has been significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, schools and systems are adapting and creating new models to support modifications to in-person learning, hybrid options, and distance learning solutions.  We are also seeing innovations with “pandemic pods” and a resurgence of interest in microschools.  Regardless of the mode of delivery, many are asking how we know if any of these efforts actually work.  At the same time, familiar metrics such as attendance and standardized test scores are impractical or nonexistent.  So what should we be analyzing and evaluating? 

I have advocated for an expanded view of student success that transcends knowledge and compliance measures.  I’ve called it the “Impact Framework” and it includes knowledge, habits, and skills in the form of agency, collaboration, and problem-solving.  The Impact Framework model, along with many others, recognizes the need for a reframe and this post will share several learner-centered metrics that should be monitoring during the pandemic. 

Agency

Measuring learner agency requires us to think about expertise as well as ensuring that learners are developing belief in their power to act purposefully toward meaningful goals.  

Setting and Achieving goals

Using tools like the Altitude Learning platform, students can set their own goals, reflect on their progress, and collect evidence of their achievement related to those goals.  

Demonstrate Mastery through Competency-Based Assessment

Demonstrations of mastery can take many forms.  While we often think first of knowledge-based outcomes, schools such as Lighthouse Community Public Schools, based in Oakland, California, has not only created a custom set of student-friendly learning targets derived from the Common Core to empower students to drive their own academic learning, they also pair those learning targets with their HOWLs (Habits of Work and Learning) that guide their social-emotional work.

Another example comes from Mount Vernon School, in Atlanta, Georgia, has a custom set academic milestones and “Mindsets” that they track and cultivate with students. 

Academic milestones organized by subject and grade bands

Mindsets

  • Collaborator – Accepts feedback, implements decisions, and shares the credit 
  • Innovator – Builds resilience through risk taking and setbacks
  • Solution Seeker – Sets goals, develops a plan of action, and tests solutions

Evidence can be tagged back to these milestones and mindsets to generate feedback that informs learners, educators, and their families about how to best support their next steps.  

Example of competency-based progress view tied to a communication milestone

Collaboration

Tools such as Minerva’s Forum, which is used during the implementation of the Minerva Baccalaureate program, collect and share analytics related to student talk time during synchronous learning experiences.  This can be a proxy of engagement and can also be used by educators to understand how their learning experience design promotes (or does not promote interaction among students).  

Distribution of student talk time across sections. Students in section A (in blue) talk less in class and show a greater variance compared with section B (in orange), with the most talkative section A student speaking almost six times as much as the quietest student. With the exception of two outliers, it appears that the section B instructor is effectively facilitating a highly engaged and equitable classroom.

Problem-Solving

Solving real-world problems is complex, contextualized, and multi-faceted.  For this reason, exhibitions of learning that include multiple forms of evidence from a learning portfolio is one way to demonstrate progress related to such challenges.  This process requires deep reflection as well as the ability to share insights along the way, thus informing an ongoing metacognitive journey that helps to develop lifelong learning.  

Portfolio Defense

The School for Examining Essential Questions of Sustainability (SEEQs) in Honolulu Hawaii uses an intensive process of portfolio defenses for their promoting 8th grade students that serves as a capstone experience after embedding similar experiences across all grade levels.  My colleague Dr. Katie Martin wrote about this process and reflected on how powerful this process is in terms of creating an environment where students learned to “ engage deeply with content to solve real-world problems.” 

In addition to these metrics that matter, qualitative input that we can gain from listening to students, conducting empathy interviews, and surveying students are important forms of input to guide ongoing improvements.  

The Time is Now

There has never been a greater need for us to find new and creative ways to demonstrate evidence of learning.  There has also not been a greater opportunity than we see now.  Conventional metrics such as attendance, letter grades, and standardized testing have all been disrupted or made impractical.  Now is the time for us to elevate and highlight other forms of achievement that better reflect a broader definition of success.  

If there has ever been a context that illustrates the need for us to be adaptable, flexible life-long learners this is it.  We have an obligation and an opportunity to reset our expectations and our feedback systems for each and every student.  We need to measure what matters. Let’s do it now.  

Check out Learner-Centered Leadership and follow #LCLeadership

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