Assessing the Learning That Matters Most

I believe assessment is an exceptionally powerful lever in transforming the traditional factory model of education. Let me explain. 

You may have seen this model before; it is an amended version of Geoffrey Moore’s  ‘Crossing the Chasm’ model from a book by the same title wherein he explains why some technology gets adopted by the masses, while other technology does not.

 Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore (amended)

Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey Moore (amended)


This model is often used as a tool to help understand why change initiatives in general succeed or fail, and helps us understand how we might support transformation efforts when wider spread adoption is needed. When I read Moore’s book, it was through the lens of “how might this model help me understand the terrain of education transformation?”. Briefly stated, Moore’s model tells us that the reason why so many change efforts fail is due to the chasm which exists between the early adopters and the early majority. The stark difference between these populations is appetite for risk. Early adopters will adopt whatever the ‘it’ is because their gut is telling them it makes sense to do so. They move on gut instinct and act in absence of proof. The early majority, in stark contrast, requires proof. They require evidence and incontrovertible data that ‘it’ works. Mapping progressive education practices on the model reveals that we are at an exciting juncture in education:

 Crossing the Education Chasm, amended by Julie Wilson (source: Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore)

Crossing the Education Chasm, amended by Julie Wilson (source: Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore)

I think of the progressive giants, innovators such as Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner, Friedrich Froebel, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget (to name just a few), as the pedagogical innovators. They led the way by observing children and how they learn, and were driven by a model of education which was before their time, a model which promoted creative problem solving, global citizenry, emotional intelligence and self efficacy, all grounded in a ‘whole child’ approach to learning. Standing on the shoulders of these giants is the great work of many modern day exemplar schools and organizations including High Tech High, the New Tech Network, Institute of Play, the Workshop School, the Center for Advanced Research and Technology, and Brightworks - and the list is growing. However, I am convinced that if we do not focus on how to assess the learning, and make that evidence and data available to a broader audience, we will not see widespread adoption of a more progressive pedagogy throughout the public system.

With the chasm as our call to action, what are the bright points of light that are happening right now? Where is great work happening and how might we help grow it?

I wanted to find out the answers to these questions and met a like mind in Jeremias Andersson. Jeremias and I were introduced through a mutual friend a couple of years ago; since that time, Jeremias has been investing money and his considerable brain power in launching an organization called EdGrow. EdGrow reached out to the IFL to offer support and we are partnering on what we call the ‘Assessing the Learning That Matters Most’ Project. The first phase of our work together was to research and inventory current leading practices in assessing the learning that matters most, to identify gaps, and highlight exemplary practices - all with a view to building an open source database of leading assessment practices. We completed the research just last month and are working on next steps to build the database structure and investigate how we might design online tools to assess the learning that matters most. I am thrilled to be working on this.

We want to make as much of our work open source as possible to help grow and participate in the broader field of this transformative work. To that end, the full ‘Assessing the Learning That Matters Most’ report can be downloaded here. Twenty -eight experts in assessment gave generously of their time and shared insights which I hope will help move your own work in this area forward.