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Prospects for Electronic Learning Records

Technology provides new options for documenting student accomplishments. At New Tech High School in Napa, California, for example, students are continuously assessed on a set of core competencies as well as on the specific content in their courses. Students receive separate ratings for critical thinking, written and oral communication, technology literacy, and collaboration in addition to their grades on course content. These ratings are posted on an online grade book available to students, their parents, and teachers.

Much like electronic medical records in this country, electronic learning records could stay with students throughout their lives, accumulating evidence of student growth across courses and across school years. A logical extension of online grade books and other electronic assessments, these electronic learning records would include learning experiences and demonstrated competencies, including samples of student work.

The way collaboration skills are assessed at New Tech offers an example. Students learn through interdisciplinary projects, almost all of which they tackle in groups. At the end of each project, each student provides an anonymous online rating of the quality of collaboration of every other member in the group. The collaboration ratings that a student has received across projects and across years at New Tech are part of his or her electronic learning portfolio.

Many schools are using electronic portfolios and other digital records of students' work as a way to demonstrate what they have learned. Although students' digital products are often impressive on their face, a portfolio of student work should be linked to an analytic framework if it is to serve assessment purposes. The portfolio reviewer needs to know what competencies the work is intended to demonstrate, what the standard or criteria for competence are in each area, and what aspects of the work provide evidence of meeting those criteria. Definitions of desired outcomes and criteria for levels of accomplishment can be expressed in the form of rubrics.

An advantage of using rubrics is that they can be communicated not only to the people judging students' work but also to the students themselves. When students receive assessment rubrics before doing an assignment – and especially when students participate in developing the rubrics – they can develop an understanding of how quality is judged in the particular field they are working in (for example, an essay of literary criticism, the design of a scientific experiment, or a data analysis).

As with any other kind of assessment score, ratings derived from rubrics should be both valid (demonstrated to measure what they are intended to measure) and reliable (consistent no matter who the rater is). Before rubrics are used on a larger scale for assessments that have consequences for schools and students, their validity and reliability must be established. Widely used writing assessments offer one example of how this process works.

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