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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

An Origin Story for the Assessment for Learning Project

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

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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