A diverse group of over 60 educational leaders representing a variety of organizations, from academic institutions to state boards of education and from foundations to education providers, released an open letter today calling for the states and the assessment consortia designing the next generation of assessments aligned to the Common Core to move with all haste to deploy an assessment system that not only explicitly accommodates emerging models of innovative schooling, but also supports them.

This is an important time for our country’s education system, as the potential exists to not merely tinker with it, but to transform it. The next-generation assessments currently being designed represent an opportunity to catalyze this innovation, but if implemented incorrectly, also present a significant risk of locking our current education system into today’s factory-model design that while successful for yesterday’s needs, is inappropriate for what we as a nation are asking it to do today.

Innosight Institute published the letter here, and those interested in adding their signature can do so here. I have also pasted the letter below in its entirety with the original signatories.

*     *    *

In an era in which information and learning know no geographic bounds, there is an unprecedented opportunity to utilize digital learning to transform our nation’s education system so that each child can be successful, realize his or her fullest potential, and pursue his or her most daring dreams. Indeed, it is the sum of these dreams that represents the future standing and economic competitiveness of this great nation.

As states across the country move forward in implementing the common core state standards, there is a chance to create the infrastructure for innovation, improved learning outcomes, and cost-savings at scale.

Part of this infrastructure will include the adoption of next-generation assessments. If done correctly, the shift from pencil-and-paper to online assessments will build upon this opportunity to transform the nation’s education system and provide a platform for new approaches to learning and schooling, not just to testing.

If done incorrectly, however, the adoption of these assessments also has the potential to lock our education system—for another decade or more—into its current factory-era model that has proved so inadequate to the task of meeting our nation’s education goals in the 21st century.

States and the assessment consortia designing the next generation of assessments are doing nothing less than laying the foundation for the next era of American public education. It is imperative that they architect a model of education that will withstand the test of time.

We, the undersigned, believe that states and the assessment consortia must move with all haste to deploy an assessment system that not only explicitly accommodates emerging models of innovative schooling, but also supports them. Some schools across the country are already moving in this innovative direction, as they shift from focusing on obsolete inputs of the past like seat time to creating new, blended schooling models that combine the best of face-to-face and online learning.* An assessment framework stuck in the factory-era relic of its predecessors would not only be orthogonal to innovative efforts like these, but could also serve to stifle further innovation—literally cutting it off at the knees.

Given the importance of this opportunity, we make three recommendations to the states and the assessment consortia.

1. Create a dynamic testing ecosystem, not another one-size-fits-all assessment. Rather than a single common test, the federal-funded opportunity offers the potential to create a vibrant assessment ecosystem comprised of multiple platforms, open-item banks, and multiple testing options that encourages deeper learning. An assessment ecosystem, rather than a single common test, will give states the flexibility to take advantage of innovations in digital learning over time while maintaining interoperability and comparability. For instance, assessments can be aligned and trusted through the use of a common matrix-based assessment, which can be used to set the curve. NAEP or PISA is an example of a matrix-based assessment; because they are broad and deep, no one student takes the whole test. Instead, several students each take a fraction of it—and a few thousand test-takers can give an accurate picture of the results in a state.

2. Plan for innovation. Interest in assessment systems, not just identical year-end or end-of-course tests, is a productive direction. So-called “interim” and “through-course assessments” can be beneficial in compiling a number of achievement data points. These assessments will be most useful, however, when integrated as part of an aligned learning system. With the shift from print to digital instructional materials, an increasing number of students will benefit from the instant feedback of content-embedded and real-time, adaptive assessment. Over time, a growing number of districts and networks will use instructional systems that produce a substantial body of achievement data tied to instructional experiences. Overlaying common interim or through-course assessments on these systems must not be redundant or, even worse, misaligned.

Next-generation assessment systems should instead be designed to be interoperable and flexible to ensure that states, districts, and schools can implement complementary alternative and aligned in-course assessments and instructional materials.

3. Adopt assessment systems that support transformation. Education is shifting from print to digital curricula and from teaching age-cohorts to personalized learning. New assessment systems should support rather than act as a barrier to competency-based learning—in which time is variable but learning is constant for each student—and systems should shift to focus on measuring and rewarding individual student growth instead of fixed inputs. Consequently, next-generation assessments must be made available on demand when a student completes a unit or course and not at a pre-determined time on the school calendar.

Andres A. Alonso, CEO, Baltimore City Public Schools

Frank E. Baxter, Chairman Emeritus, Jefferies & Company

Marie M. Bjerede, Founder e-Mergents, LLC

Kelly Burnette, NBCT, FL State Teacher of the Year Finalist 2011

Idit Harel Caperton, President & Founder, World Wide Workshop

Samuel Casey Carter, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Jaime Casap, Senior Education Manager, Google

Stacey Childress, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Clayton M. Christensen, Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Susan J. Colby, CEO, Stupski Foundation

Allan Collins, Professor Emeritus of Learning Sciences, Northwestern University

Gunnar Counselman, Founder and CEO, Fidelis

Chris Dede, Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Harvard University

Beth Dozoretz, Unleashing Education Innovation Group

Robert Dunlevy, State Board of Education, West Virginia

Mark Edwards, Superintendent, Mooresville, NC

MaryEllen Elia, Superintendent, Hillsborough County Public Schools, FL

Julie Evans, CEO, Project Tomorrow

Rose Fernandez, Executive Director, National Parent Network for Online Learning

Michael M. Flood, Vice President Education Markets, Kajeet

Luis de la Fuente, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation

Stephanie Saroki de Garcia, Seton Education Partners

Roy Gilbert, Chief Executive Officer, Grockit

Jessica Goldfin, Special Assistant to the President, Knight Foundation

Thomas Greaves, Chairman, The Greaves Group, LLC

Michael Green, Member, State Board of Education, West Virginia

Michael E. Hanson, Superintendent of Schools, Fresno Unified School District

Scott Hartl, President and CEO, Expeditionary Learning

Nelson Heller, Founder, The Heller Reports and EdNET Conference

Alex Hernandez, Partner, Charter School Growth Fund

Michael B. Horn, Executive Director, Innosight Institute

Gisele Huff, Executive Director, Jaquelin Hume Foundation

Robert Iskander, Founder & CEO, EduTone Corporation

Todd Kern, Principal, 2Revolutions LLC

Mark Kushner, Senior Vice President of School Development and Partnerships, K12, Inc.

Rob Lippincott, Senior Vice President for Education, PBS

Gayle Manchin, State Board of Education, West Virginia; and former First lady

Margery Mayer, President, Scholastic Education

Kathleen McCartney, Dean of the Faculty of Education and Gerald S. Lesser Professor in

Early Childhood Development, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Terry M. Moe, Professor, Stanford University, and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

Vasanth Mohan, Vice President, MOBL21

Carrie Morgridge, Co-Founder, Morgridge Family Foundation

Rae Mugnolo, SMART Technologies

Susan Patrick, President and CEO, International Association for K-12 Online Learning

Daniel S. Peters, President, Lovett & Ruth Peters Foundation

Ramona Pierson, Chief Science Officer, Promethean

Fernando M. Reimers, Ford Foundation Professor of International Education,

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Victor Reinoso, Georgetown University (former Deputy Mayor for Education, DC)

Seth Reynolds, Partner, The Parthenon Group

Colin Rogister

Joel Rose, School of One

L. Todd Rose, Scientist, CAST, and Lecturer on Education, Harvard University

Aylon Samouha, Chief Schools Officer, Rocketship Education

Michael J. Schmedlen, Director of Worldwide Education, Lenovo

Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director of Education Policy, Software & Information

Industry Association

Don Soifer, Executive Vice President, Lexington Institute

Lawrence Stupski, Chairman, Stupski Foundation

Ana Thompson, Executive Director, Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation

Tom Vander Ark, CEO, Open Education Solutions

Dr. William M. White, Dean, The Charles H. Polk School of Leadership and

Professional Development, Mountain State University, WV

Bob Wise, President, Alliance for Excellent Education

Esther Wojcicki, Teacher & Vice Chair, Creative Commons

Julie. E. Young, President & CEO, Florida Virtual School

The above list represents the letter’s original signatories. To add your signature, please click here.





*See Heather Staker, “The rise of K-12 blended learning: Profiles of emerging models,” Innosight Institute, May 2011, http://www.innosightinstitute.org/blended_learning_models/. The report profiles 40 operators pioneering blended-learning models of various types, several of which are moving in this bold new direction for students.


  • Michael B. Horn
    Michael B. Horn

    Michael B. Horn is Co-Founder, Distinguished Fellow, and Chairman at the Christensen Institute.