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Civics, Digital Badges, and Alternative Assessments

A new CIRCLE paper explores the potential of innovative ways of measuring civic skills and knowledge.

With support from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, CIRCLE has released a working paper that explores digital badges and alternative assessments for civic skills, knowledge, and dispositions. This working paper, entitled “New and Alternative Assessments, Digital Badges, and Civics: An Overview of Emerging Themes and Promising Directions, considers digital badges as well as ePortfolios, rubrics, games, simulations, and other assessment and learning tools that might expand options for those committed to improving civic education.

In a recent factsheet on state civic education requirements, CIRCLE concluded that while “all states have standards for social studies or civics” the number of states that require assessment on social studies has decreased since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the “scope of the assessments has become increasingly narrow.”

States are, to a greater extent, using multiple-choice-only tests that focus primarily on memorizing information, rather than demonstrating civic skills. Furthermore, assessments focus mostly on the history and geography of the United States; far fewer states assess students in world affairs or economics.  Ninety-six percent of states require the completion of at least one social studies course to graduate from high school. Yet only eighteen percent require an assessment of the knowledge and skills gained in these learning environments. At the very least, we are not recognizing in any comprehensive way what civic skills and competencies students are acquiring; at worst we are not providing them with the necessities to be engaged citizens of the 21st century.

Civic knowledge, like cognitive learning outcomes in math, science, and English, conforms moderately well to standardized testing and assessment mechanisms.  The harder assessment challenges involve civic skills, both participatory and intellectual, and civic dispositions (values, habits, and attitudes). These challenges are compounded by high-stakes, standardized tests that monopolize teachers’ time and leave little left for the more nuanced and complex assessments needed for civics. Additionally, civics need assessments that can accommodate a diverse set of learning environments (e.g. formal classrooms, after-school programs, community settings), and the long developmental trajectories for civic learning that can span beyond a single grade year or classroom. With all these obstacles to robust, multi-dimensional assessment, there is a clear need to consider alternative evaluation and credentialing processes and systems for civic learning.

The digital badge–as well as alternative assessments like ePortfolios, rubrics, games and simulations–may help overcome these difficulties. We are interested in what you have to say about these tools and practices.Join the conversation below.