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Stacks for Learning: Micro-Credentials in Jefferson County

During my third week working at Center for Collaborative Education, I had the opportunity to journey to Louisville, Kentucky to engage with the Assessment for Learning Project. Although I hail from a part of the Midwest that borders the South, I had little idea of what it would be like to be in a room full of educators in Kentucky. Prior to this journey, my understanding of Kentucky was limited to stereotypes of Appalachia, University of Kentucky men’s basketball, and the news I read about senators in the current political climate. The days spent with educators from Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), opened my eyes to the powerful work teachers are doing to ensure that learners are receiving a rigorous, student-centered education in the context of Kentucky. 

Micro-credentials

As part of a partnership with the Jefferson County Public Schools to bring micro-credentials to JCPS educators, Gary Chapin has developed two-day orientations that provide educators with an overview of both micro-credentials and Quality Performance Assessment. The time I spent in Louisville allowed me to interact as both a learner about micro-credentials and a coach regarding performance assessment.  

CCE has designed twelve micro-credentials to date that are organized into four stacks of complementary constructs: Basic Performance Assessment Design, Advanced Performance Assessment Design, Leading a Performance Assessment Community, and Performance Assessment for Equity. Within each stack, there are three micro-credentials that help educators develop an understanding of various ideas about performance assessment. Participating JCPS educators are asked to complete three micro-credentials (preferably in a stack) as part of their professional learning opportunity with the Jefferson County Teacher Association. 

On the first day of orientation, micro-credentials were presented as an ultimate form of Performance Assessment, as the learning is done on the terms of the learner. Micro-credentials are as engaging and collaborative as the learner chooses for them to be, and the educators in the room ran with this idea. During their worktime, educators immediately gathered and shared ideas as they began the background work on their micro-credentials (which inherently meant they were working on the development of Performance Assessments and Performance Assessment system-building), showing evidence of the collaborative potential of both micro-credentials and performance assessment.  

The conversations about Quality Performance Assessment also led to rich discussions about the futurity of education. A particularly powerful moment in our time together came on our second day, when Gary led a discussion about rubrics as part of Performance Assessments. As part of this discussion, Gary introduced the idea that the one-point rubric liberated education, causing students to be less fixated on the grade, and more invested in notions of growth and learning. In my prior life of analyzing social and educational inequity, my sense of hope about the power of education had begun to fade, but the excitement these educators had about the potential of new ways to think about assessment and student engagement showed me that there are so many ways for us to disrupt systems of educational inequity.  

Although most of the educators in the room were deeply engaged in the micro-credentials work, I was compelled to engage with the one science educator who quickly developed a mindset of resistance towards both micro-credentials and performance assessment. He insisted that on one side of education were those who had time to sit and think about initiatives and ways of teaching, and on the other side were those who actually engage in teaching. For him, micro-credentials required too much autonomous thought and work for a teacher who had to think about the students in front of him. In the face of his resistance, I worked with him as he designed engaging performance assessments, trying to get him to see for himself that this assessment practice is a tool that helps him achieve his goal of thinking about the students in front of him. While I can never be certain that he saw the full value, he showed me that is not enough to believe in the value of performance assessment. As a facilitator and coach, a large part of my job is to scaffold the learning about performance assessment, so that it is accessible and engaging, even for those teachers who are understandably convinced that they don’t have time for another initiative.  

My two days in Louisville served as a renewal for me. They not only reminded me of the importance of how we think about assessment and teaching, but also served to show me the lengths teachers are willing to go to transform education, and make sure their students have access to rigorous, learner-centered experiences in school.

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