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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

By Gary Chapin

Writer, Educating for Good

It’s striking, when you look down the list of folks involved in ALP, how many are still part of the ALP community. Many—most?—have moved away from the jobs they held back then, but they’ve carried the Assessment for Learning values and ideals with them into new settings and roles. This is the ALP diaspora.

Carissa Duran was central to the ALP funded Competency X project at Del Lago Academy of Applied Science, Escondido Unified High School District (CA), but unlike others leading that project, Carissa did not get involved with ALP on purpose. She was not part of the project’s founding team. I talked to Carissa about the happenstance power of ALP. Here are excerpts.

“I absolutely just found myself in the middle of [the ALP work] … I don't have a clear entry point in my memory. I remember being part of reviewing the grant documents. I was an English teacher, so maybe that was part of it too. I could edit these documents.”
“I think largely I became more central to the work because it fascinated me and energized me. I've tried in lots of different ways to center the student learning experience in a way that was meaningful and just, purposeful and equitable. That's the thing that I was most drawn to. The idea of creating these nontraditional pathways and honoring the learning students were doing that wasn't being captured in all of the other ways we assessed. I just kept myself involved.”

ALP conversations helped Del Lago examine its assumptions.

“[Our ALP coach] (disclosure from Gary: I was their ALP coach) helped us to understand that a lot of what we thought we were doing, we weren't really doing.
We would say we did competency-based education and we never actually articulated what those competencies were. And it took you pointing that out to us, for us to be able to ask, ‘Are we going to pursue a more pure version of this or are we going to remain with this sort of modified system? Who are we actually? What do we actually want to do? What's best for our learners?’”

Carissa interacted deeply with other ALP folks. At the San Diego 2020 ALP Conference, the team from Hawai’i led a session about their HĀ framework (go to their website for more info). The framework uses the acronym, BREATH: Belonging, Responsibility, Excellence, Aloha, Total wellbeing, and Hawai’i. Carissa was struck by the deeply place-based structure.

“At the end of the BREATH framework is the word “Hawai’i” … [we want to] create these beautiful, context specific frameworks that are meant to support our learners. We know how important it is to design things with our unique community or context in mind. And you were asking, ‘How do we use [the HĀ framework] on the East Coast when we're not Hawai’i and we need a new age? Like how do we get a new age that still captures this?’ I said, ‘What if the H in Breath is Here?’ For our friends in Hawai’i, obviously, Hawai’i is here. But for any of the rest of us, our home is here. Here is here … I'm always thinking about that as a focal point. What does that mean here? How does this community impact this learner? How are they involved? What do these particular learners need? Centering that in all my work has been probably the most impactful learning that I've taken from ALP.”

After some years, Carissa left Del Lago and worked with Instructure, the developers of Canvas. This year she’s returned to Escondido’s district office as A-G Coordinator. She also began a new stage of graduate work focused on—get this—assessment.

“I started a doctoral program a few weeks ago, my PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy. And I wrote my policy paper, part of my admissions process, on assessment and the impact of accountability policy and its trickle-down effect on what assessment looks like in classrooms. My whole life has become about assessment.”
“Even when it's not about assessment, it's about assessment. Assessment is at the center of all things, teaching and learning. It's literally become the center point of my whole life now. Everything I'll be doing and designing and learning, at least for the next four years, is going to be around assessment.”
“That may be a little bit obsessive. It's maybe a little bit obsessive? But I feel like that's the impact the ALP has. It draws you in because it's assessment, but it is assessment situated within justice.”

At the 2019 Aurora Institute Symposium, Carissa was awarded Teacher of the Year for being an educator “whose efforts as a personalized learning teacher exemplify a commitment to student success, knowledge, and skill as a professional educator and dedication to his or her students.” The video of her acceptance speech can be seen below.


About Carissa

Carissa Duran is an educator in pursuit of justice and currently serving as A-G Coordinator with the Escondido Union High School District. She has worked in the field of education for over 10 years, serving 7 years at Del Lago Academy, an innovative, competency-based high school, teaching Humanities and coaching other teachers in literacy, language development, assessment, and educational technology. Fully committed to disrupting inequities in education, she spent those years leveraging Assessment for Learning, Project Based Learning, Standards-Based Grading, Restorative Practice, and personalized learning to serve her students. In 2019, Carissa was recognized as the Personalized Learning Teacher of the Year by the Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL). She believes that as long as we're serving diverse students with diverse backgrounds— which we are— we need to leverage technology and personalization to bridge the opportunity gap and give all students an onramp to success.

Carissa can be found on Twitter at @seejodee.

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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

By Gary Chapin

Writer, Educating for Good

At the beginning, the folks leading ALP couldn’t answer the question, “Yeah, but what is ALP all about??” This was because, until the participants of ALP got in there and lived it, there was no way of knowing. This didn’t keep us from trying, of course. We had our intentions, values, and techniques, but we knew that what-ALP-is-all-about would emerge from the people who inhabited it.

We gained clarity over time. There’s a definition of ALP. For the phenomenologists out there, you can know us by our works. There’s a graphic that nicely lays out the principles that work with ALP. You can see it here, in detail, along with annotation. These ideas are becoming the center of conversation again as ALP 2.0 does its own emerging and updates its theory of change (more on that next week), but they aren’t the essence of ALP.

The Essence

Working with the ALP community, especially with the folks leading Hawai’i’s HĀ project, I encountered the idea that a genuinely human vision of assessment, encompassing learning and joy, is rooted in two concepts: ecosystem and storytelling.

Assessment as ecosystem is a recognition of the profound complexity of relationships that make up schools, learning, our kids, and the system of learning. Every element moves continuously and impacts every other element. Biologists refer to this phenomenon as mutuality. Things are not only more interdependent than we imagine; they are more interdependent than we can imagine.

On complexity, Neil Postman once wrote that “If you add a caterpillar to an ecosystem, you don’t get the old ecosystem with an additional caterpillar. You get a new ecosystem.” The ecosystem changes—new qualities emerge—to accommodate the new addition. Postman wasn’t simply pointing out the hubris of folks who add computers to a school and expect that the only impact will be that we are “more efficient.” He was pointing to the amazing, uncanny creative power of an ecosystem. He was saying that by trying to control for the environment, we turn our backs on and deny a vibrant, abundant, and joyful source of creative power. At ALP, we think you shouldn’t do that.

Assessment as storytelling is understanding that assessment is storytelling, and this has important implications. We can treat assessment as a source of data that is open to analysis, but the only reason to do so is to develop a story—acknowledged or not—about the kid and their learning. An assessment system that results in a single number grade for a kid is telling a story, but it’s a shallow story. How do we tell better stories, i.e., truthful, supportive stories that are good for the kid and their learning? You start out by trying to. Instead of setting out to tell the story of did-this-kid-learn-enough, you tell the-story-of-the-kid-and-their-learning-over-time-and-in-this-place.

Storytelling is an essential component of all learning. When John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from experience, we learn from experience plus reflection,” he was talking about taking our experience and constructing a story to figure out the meaning of the experience, and how it fits into our lives – what we’ve learned before and what we’re going to learn after.

At the Assessment for Learning Project, we not only advocate for these mind/heartsets, we live by them. For the February convening in Tucson, there will be a crew – maybe even a horde? – of storytellers and story catchers helping us make sense of things. If you want to tell your story, or help someone else tell theirs, let us know. The core of ALP is still emerging from the people who inhabit it.


This blog post is part of a series about Storytelling stewarded by longtime friend of ALP Gary Chapin. Gary writes for Educating for Good and can be found on Twitter @garychapin67.

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Updated: Nov 22, 2022

By Gary Chapin

Writer, Educating for Good

Today is the first in a new blog series written by our long-time friend of ALP, Gary Chapin! You’ll find his weekly dispatches from the ALP Learning Community here.

When we decided it was time to tell an Origin Story of ALP, the first thing that came to my mind was, “I remember the day I was bitten by a radioactive assessment system.”

Spiderman’s radioactive spider bite was a chance event, but the conversation with Uncle Ben—“With great power comes great responsibility.”—shows us why it matters. That’s what origin stories do: They tell us not only what happened to lead up to the present moment; they also pick and frame those moments and ideas so you know why it’s important for you to know such a thing.

For many of us, the Assessment for Learning Project, originally a grant-making initiative, began seven years ago at a gathering in Denver. ALP had selected twelve projects, from Hawai’i to Maine, designed to develop approaches to assessment that challenged the current models and their limitations. We showed up excited about our work, but not sure what to expect. The RFP (request for proposals) had actually been an RFL (request for learning). That had to mean something. But was it a real something, or a jargon something?

Spoiler: it was a real something. There’s a lot about that first meeting that was important, but the most important thing was the way ALP created the conditions for the development of learning relationships. This is good because, in assessment, relationships are everything.

Twice a year for the next three years, ALP had a convening of learners. The circle grew to include common cause orgs and new partners, and our understanding of what we were about grew.

Change happens one conversation at a time, and there were so many conversations. We went to Scottsdale (2017), and Santa Fe (2018), each time refining the lens of the work. Using new protocols and artforms to communicate in new ways so we could say new things.

In Santa Fe (2018), we were moved by the Voices of ALP exhibition, which brought us an abundance of student voices (audio and video) reflecting on their own experiences within ALP projects. These affirmed, first, assessment is a co-conspiracy of all learners, and second, this is a powerful thing we’re doing. That’s when we realized that ALP wasn’t an implementation, or initiative, or reform. It’s a movement.

It is a movement that reimagines the shape of assessment as something situated in justice, equity, and empathy, and it’s fed by people who are really into assessment. We show up at an ALP gathering and think, “Finally, people I can talk to!” This is not only vital, fascinating, and fulfilling work; it’s our idea of a good time.

By the time we held our first open-to-everyone ALP Conference in San Diego (2020), we were framing our ideas in a bunch of ways, including performance assessment, formative assessment, culturally sustaining practices, kid agency, et many cetera. It felt like a debut. Like, “Today, San Diego. Tomorrow, the world!” Sigh.

You know the rest: San Diego was the last trip many of us took before COVID shut the world down a few weeks later, and all of us, as educators, have been fighting the fires of a multi-year crisis ever since. ALP, the movement, was put on hold.

But ALP, the idea, has gone up in value. During the pandemic, interest in #rethinkingassessment has only grown. After three years, it’s time to get the band back together. February in Tucson, we are rebooting our movement.

This space is devoted to ALP stories and origins. Who are we? What have we done? Why does it matter? What’s happening in Tucson? And why might you want to be there with us in February 2023?

There’s never just one origin story, and never just one storyteller. Maybe you were bitten by a radioactive assessment. Maybe you were experimented on by Venusian psychometricians. Maybe, after a formative Traumatic Event ™, you’ve obsessively trained yourself up in the ways of heroic assessment. Probably you got here in more conventional ways: learning, teaching, curriculum, etc. Either way, we want your story as part of our network of stories. Stories are powerful things. And with great power comes … well, you know.


This blog post is part of a series about Storytelling stewarded by longtime friend of ALP Gary Chapin. Gary writes for Educating for Good and can be found on twitter @garychapin67.

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