Reimagining Assessment
Reimagining Assessment

Educators are rethinking the purposes, forms, and nature of assessment. Beyond testing mastery of traditional content knowledge—an essential task, but not nearly sufficient—educators are designing assessment for learning as an integral part of the learning process.

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Practitioner's Guide to Next Gen Learning

How student voice and choice continue to shape Competency X, Del Lago Academy's innovative approach to assessment through badging.

When I take tests—this is so bad—I forget all the information. I'm not trying to, of course, but with the badges, with the process and how it's skills- and performance-based, it just helps me learn more and be able to remember the things that I learned as well.
Something unique about the reflections we did with the badges was the way that we would save them on a website, and we could easily review the work that we did. So, say I earned a badge last year and this year I need to do that same skill, I can go back and look at the video I made. [I can] look at what I wrote about that and remind myself of the skills, and then I'm able to do it.
We had to reflect on our learning through that badge—you know the process, the product, and a visual representation of what we could do. But [the reflection] also gave an explanation of what that means, what that learning is—not just showing what we learned, but also showing what that learning is and how it can be applied.

What’s obvious in these comments by high school students at Del Lago Academy Campus of Applied Science in Escondido, CA, is the depth of their thinking and self-awareness around their own learning and the use of digital badging, a key element in their high school’s portfolio-based assessment model.

What’s less obvious is the extent to which student voices and ideas shaped—and continue to shape—Del Lago’s innovative approach to assessment. In this edition of Friday Focus: Practitioner’s Guide to Next Gen Learning, we tell the story of badging at Del Lago Academy, a member of the NGLC and Center for Innovation in Education Assessment for Learning Project community. Our spotlight today is on the role of students as co-designers for innovation, including:

  • How they co-created Competency X, Del Lago’s digital badging program
  • How student voice and choice continue to refine this innovative approach to assessment

Listen to Students When They Talk About Their Learning

At Del Lago students use digital portfolios, built upon the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), to track and reflect on evidence of their competency in science and engineering practices. All students also participate in real-world learning through internships in grade 11.

The idea of integrating badging with the portfolios arose from “asking students about challenges in their learning and, in particular, their internships—what it was they were struggling with.” This is how Alec Barron, project lead for Competency X, frames the origin story for digital badging. Now a Science Coach in Escondido Union High School District, Alec was one of Del Lago’s founding teachers. He recalls how students were co-designers of the badging program from the very beginning and how their voices “prompted developing new opportunities to practice, strengthen, and assess skills as students were acquiring them.”

According to Alec, the badges, which are validated by college and industry partners, help fill in the gaps in traditional transcripts of coursework by teasing out specific academic and workforce competencies. In this way, badges can provide more precise information to educators, internship mentors, potential employers, and the scholars themselves about what learners know and can do in the real world.

From Prototype to Practice: Learners as Users

Del Lago implemented Phase 1 of the badging program for 10th-grade students during the 2015-2016 academic year, and learners were instrumental in providing user feedback on that prototype. As Alec points out (with evident pride), the program evaluation for Phase 1 was led by students, including two who were interning with him in social science. They convened focus groups of educators and students and conducted surveys on the innovative assessment approach.

student internship

Del Lago student interns tabulating results of the survey on the badging prototype

Following that first year, Del Lago students, along with college and industry partners and educators, also participated in a Competency X summer workshop. Scholars were invited to provide feedback on what did or did not work during the prototype and to offer suggestions for clarifying language about both the badges and the process of earning them.

According to Alec, student voice during and after the prototype was substantive and influential. Instead of a group of adults listening politely to student feedback, the engagement with students was, in Alec’s words, a “rich debate.” To illustrate, he recalls a lively argument between a student and a biotech professor over what constitutes good writing and how much it varies by context. This conversation, he says, “ultimately shaped the badge on communication.”

Student Agency in Optimizing Innovations

Since its inception Competency X has relied on student input for numerous aspects of implementation, including determining which badges are mandatory and which artifacts to curate, as well as providing “reality checks” around what kinds of evidence are realistic. Alec also credits students with pointing out redundancies in the reflection step of the badging process and then helping to develop a new metacognitive rubric, one that better describes how to write an effective reflection.

Technology is one element of Competency X where Del Lago scholars have had considerable impact, especially with respect to the platform used to house the portfolios and digital badges. For instance, Alec notes that students really wanted the ability to collaborate, something the original platform did not support. They also wanted to track their progress, step-by-step, toward earning badges. Alec recalls that it was a student, Becky, who coined a term for this ongoing, granular feedback. Called “questyness,” this progress monitoring, a kind of motivational “power-up” for students, became an integral feature of Competency X.

Student voice also prompted the school to adopt a new platform called Portfolium, which provides more of the features they requested—but not all. As Alec relates, Del Lago scholars really wanted the ability to create and name their own badges, “something the platform didn’t allow and required a hack” to support. After students met with a team from Portfolium, the code was changed to meet their needs.

Even the digital badge graphics are student work products. According to Alec, Del Lago “recruited scholars from our Principles of Design 3 course. They took the description of the badge expectations and evidence to ideate graphic designs. We love what they came up with!”

Comptency X badges

Two of the badges students earn en route to becoming analyzing scientists or engineers

Today Del Lago offers a wide range of digital badges. Many of these are aligned to the NGSS Science and Engineering Practices and the skills, knowledge, and dispositions identified by college and industry partners. However, the number of badges continues to grow, due in part to specialized badges related to the 11th-grade internships. Not only do previously earned badges help students obtain these real-world experiences, but scholars and their mentors also co-create badges to represent the goals they have for the internship project. An additional benefit, says Alec, is that this co-design process “allows the scholar and the internship mentor to have deep conversations around how to assess what is needed for success in that industry.”

Ultimately, the success of a new program like Competency X is in the hands of the students. “A badge is not just the what of learning but also the who,” Alec explains. The question we have to ask ourselves is, “Are the kids really living in the badges?” At Del Lago Academy co-designing teaching and learning with students is one way to invite learners to “live in” their innovations.


Amanda Avallone headshot

Amanda Avallone (she/her/hers)

Learning Officer (ret.), Next Generation Learning Challenges

Amanda retired from Next Generation Learning Challenges in 2022. As a Learning Officer for NGLC, she collaborated with pioneering educators and their communities to design authentic, powerful learning experiences for young people. She created educator professional learning experiences that exemplify the kind of learning we want for our students and she supported, connected, and celebrated, through storytelling, the educators who are already doing the challenging work of transforming learning every day.