New Education Research and Development (R&D) Program Aims to Reimagine Assessment
Program Marks the Launch of AERDF, the Advanced Education Research & Development Fund, Which Will Support Bold R&D Programs Designed to Improve Learning Outcomes
OAKLAND, Calif. – The Advanced Education Research & Development Fund (AERDF, pronounced AIR-dif) announced today the formation of Assessment for Good, the second program in its effort to accelerate progress against intractable teaching and learning challenges that disproportionately impact Black and Latino students, and PreK-12 students of all races experiencing poverty.
Assessment for Good joins the EF+Math Program, which in 2019 began to investigate ways to improve students’ math learning through executive function skill development, as the first two programs in AERDF’s multi-year research and development (R&D) effort. In AERDF’s Inclusive R&D model, diverse teams of educators, researchers, and developers enter on equal footing and bring their particular perspectives and expertise to bear on each program’s goals.
AERDF is a nonprofit initiative that will support breakthrough outcomes in student learning, well-being, and opportunity. With the support of philanthropy, AERDF will provide resources for a number of ambitious programs and help demonstrate the power and promise of Inclusive R&D.
Assessment for Good
It is more important than ever for all students to feel welcome, safe and understood at school and for learning environments to support this goal. Assessment for Good (AFG) is an Inclusive R&D program focused on dramatically improving conditions for the social and emotional health and positive academic outcomes of learners aged 8 through 13, with a special focus on Black and Latinx students. This is a critical phase in students’ lives for identity development and foundational academic development. It is also the time when most students are initially assessed for disabilities.
Led by Dr. Temple Lovelace, AFG seeks to improve outcomes for students with and without disabilities through a series of R&D projects that will advance the capabilities needed in a responsive and accessible system of asset-based assessment. By redesigning assessment in this way, educators will have access to vital information on the strengths that students bring to the classroom, allowing them to provide a rich instructional experience that values learner diversity. Transforming assessment so that it connects educators, parents, and students together as partners in learning will maximize impact – setting the stage for an equitable, affirming, and relevant educational experience.
Today, the AFG program is announcing two opportunities to identify breakthrough efforts to redefine assessment. The first is a Request for Information (RFI) https://assessmentforgood.info/RFI that seeks detailed information from educators, researchers, caregivers, and product developers on how assessment can be conducted differently. Of particular interest are ideas for how to meaningfully include parents and students as partners in assessment, new assessment formats for social and emotional learning that can be integrated into current learning systems, and technology-enhanced assessment that supports embedding assessment into natural classroom routines. The AFG team will use this information to guide upcoming funding opportunities.
The second opportunity is a Request for Proposals (RFP) https://assessmentforgood.info/LEARN for available funding for projects aimed at creating innovative ways to assess how learning environments support specific aspects of students’ emotional and identity development. The AFG team believes that the most promising approaches will reflect easy to use tools that support the multiple identities that a learner brings to school, such as their view of themselves as a reader or future entrepreneur, as well as their sense of their cultural and social identities. When identity and emotional development can be developed alongside academic skills, educators can meet a student’s needs more effectively and provide a more individualized and affirming educational experience. Through this RFP, the AFG team hopes to engage in a rapid response approach to R&D by providing funding to teams in sixty days or less to co-develop effective solutions with educators and students.
Educator interest in students’ emotional and identity development is growing, and evidence shows both are correlated with positive academic outcomes, especially for Black and Latinx students. Current assessments of social and emotional skills often result in information that is broad and vague. In addition, if social and emotional capacity is assessed, it is typically through checklists and observations that are an estimation of past experiences and not connected to an asset-based view of the student. AFG aims to change this by providing new tools that are formative and flexible, able to match the adaptability needed in today’s schools. The program will build on existing research and learning science to drive innovations that can bridge diverse instructional methods, allowing educators to connect asset-based formative assessment to technology-enhanced, hands-on, or self-directed instruction.
“By identifying and creating new assessment tools that elevate a student’s expertise and cultivate the natural abilities they have, we can provide a more responsive learning environment that allows for exponential growth to occur,” said Dr. Temple Lovelace, director of the Assessment for Good program. “As districts embark on leading-edge, innovative formats for instruction this fall, assessment must also evolve in a complementary fashion. It is time for our assessment practices to foster promise and ignite learning in new and imaginative ways.”
AFG is also supported by an Advisory Council consisting of educators, caregivers, activists, students, researchers, nonprofit leaders, and product and policy experts. The AFG Council shares the commitment to inclusive R&D and will influence AFG’s processes, goals, and investment decisions during the program’s lifecycle.
For more information on the Assessment for Good RFP, please visit aerdf.org/afg.
EF+Math is a five-year inclusive R&D program with a goal of doubling the number of Black and Latinx students who are proficient in math in grades 3 through 8. Founded by Dr. Melina Uncapher in 2019, the program moved under the AERDF umbrella earlier this year.
EF+Math was initially envisioned as a demonstration program that could model core aspects of Inclusive R&D: educators, researchers, and developers working together on equal footing to build on insights from learning science to create useful and usable practices and tools for classrooms. The early strength of the program served as a guide for the creation of AERDF, which will support additional Inclusive R&D programs.
EF+Math builds on existing evidence that executive function (EF) skills help students learn math more effectively. Every student has EF skills, which allow them to focus on what’s important and ignore distractions, think flexibly to solve problems, and keep track of ideas in their minds. The program supports a diverse set of applied research projects and prototyping teams that are each using Inclusive R&D to test ways to blend the strengthening of students’ EF skills with rigorous math instruction. The projects incorporate EF+Math’s three key pillars of Inclusive R&D: grounded in rigorous research, equity centered, and designed with educators at the center.
The mix of funded projects is designed to advance the relevant learning science, develop new practices and prototypes, and generate evidence about the potential of blending EF skill development with math instruction. The teams are designing for real-world classrooms by co-designing and developing with public school district partners across the country.
In addition to a vibrant community of more than 250 educators, researchers, developers and advisors who are part of the funded R&D projects, an Educator Leadership Council (ELC) is core to the effort. The ELC is a diverse group of educators who work at the classroom, school and district levels. Council members provide critical expertise in middle-years math curriculum and instruction and deep experience working in districts that serve Black and Latinx students and students experiencing poverty. The ELC participated in the initial decisions about which projects to fund and then embedded members in project teams to infuse their wisdom throughout the portfolio. Members of an Equity Research Advisory Board also provide the R&D projects with guidance and expertise to ensure continued progress toward stated equity commitments.
“Success in math is critical to success in life,” said Dr. Melina Uncapher, director of the EF+Math program. “Every young person is already equipped with the skills needed to learn anything, particularly rigorous math. They deserve to be challenged with the best resources and opportunities. We focus on affirming the brilliance that already exists in each student by building research-informed, student-centered math learning systems.”
For more information on the EF+Math Program, please visit aerdf.org/efm.
The Advanced Education Research and Development Fund (AERDF) will support ambitious Inclusive R&D programs designed to tackle intractable teaching and learning challenges that disproportionately affect Black and Latino students and students of all races experiencing poverty.
Every student is a powerful learner. Their learning experiences should prepare and inspire them to create good lives for themselves, make positive change in their communities, and build a more equitable future for everyone. Our education system is struggling to meet this aspiration for every young person. Yet we know more today than ever before about how children and young people learn and develop. Breakthroughs in areas such as neuroscience, cognitive science and human development provide basic insights that could lead to stronger learning and life outcomes. The education sector struggles to translate these insights into more widely used methods, tools, and practices that support students and teachers. Other sectors have more robust investment in R&D capacity that plays this role.
R&D bridges the gap between basic research on the one hand and professional practice and product development on the other. R&D converts research into capabilities — practices, methods, prototypes, tools — that can be built on to create breakthroughs. Traditional R&D is often siloed into separate and sequential stages of discovery, development and adoption that can take a decade or more.
By contrast, Inclusive R&D engages educators, researchers, and developers from the beginning in shorter cycles of innovation with clear, ambitious goals. By funding multiple projects in different contexts, Inclusive R&D plans for scalability from the outset, designing approaches and solutions that are meant to work in many communities rather than a single school or district.
AERDF staff will work with teachers, students, education leaders, researchers, and developers to identify problems and opportunities that can be tackled through Inclusive R&D programs in the coming years. This exploration will help identify Program Directors who can build on existing evidence and learning science to design multi-year Inclusive R&D programs to translate fundamental insights into more useful practices, approaches and tools.
“AERDF was created to strengthen our R&D capacity in PreK-12 education, which has long been under-resourced,” said Stacey Childress, chief executive. “Just as the country invests in breakthroughs in sectors like medicine and energy, AERDF’s Inclusive R&D programs will pursue ambitious goals and help push our understanding of what’s possible for student learning and opportunity.”
The effort has been seeded with $200 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the Walton Family Foundation. AERDF will grow to a portfolio of up to five Inclusive R&D programs on different topics by the end of 2023, each of which will build on learning science and pursue ambitious goals to create breakthrough outcomes.
For more information on AERDF, visit aerdf.org.
AERDF will conduct a special panel discussion featuring Stacey Childress, CEO of AERDF; Melina Uncapher, director of the EF+Math program; and Temple Lovelace, director of the Assessment for Good program, on July 21, 2021 at 12:30 pm ET / 9:30 am PT.
Assessment for Good will conduct a special webinar providing more details about the program’s first RFI and RFP featuring members of the AFG Team on August 11, 2021 at 12:00 pm ET / 9:00 am PT.
To register for the event, please go here: AFG Webinar (registration required)