2020 Condition of Education Action Guide

A key piece of our Condition of Education in the Commonwealth report, the Action Guide provides research-informed recommendations for statewide actions—policies, investments, and expansion of best practices—that have potential to address performance gaps and contribute to broad improvement in student outcomes. In our recent Condition of Education Action Guides, we've called on the Commonwealth to consider education more holistically, noting that each child’s education encompasses more than academic learning


2020 Action Guide | Measuring Student Success: Innovative Approaches to Understanding Diverse Learners

This year’s report examines opportunities for innovation in how educators capture the full range of students’ experiences and understanding. The 2020 Action Guide highlights methods of measuring progress beyond traditional academic assessments, expanding the definition of success in order to support—and celebrate—the aspirations and achievements of all learners. 

Full Report   Executive Summary


A Time for Change

Developments in policy and practice over the past five years have led to a strong and growing focus on the holistic development of all students. This can be seen through shifts in the state accountability system to incorporate non-academic measures; state-led initiatives to assist district efforts on social-emotional learning, mental health, and integrated student support; a recent state law requiring civic education and engagement for Massachusetts students; and proliferating national and local efforts to infuse culturally and linguistically sustaining practices within schools and classrooms. 

The time is ripe within Massachusetts education system to revisit the traditional measures that have been used to indicate student progress. Learning from both our successes and our persistent challenges, we have an opportunity to leverage existing structures and identify opportunities for innovation in how we define and measure student success. This year’s report focuses on three key areas: supporting the whole child, serving all students, and building multiple pathways to college and career. 

A Whole-Child Approach

Taking a whole child approach to assessment is critical for two reasons: 1) educators have the opportunity to see students participate in a range of social and academic experiences, offering important insights into how best to support those students’ healthy development; and 2) non-academic factors like mental health, social-emotional development, and trauma can impact students’ ability to learn and demonstrate what they have learned, which means that schools need to be aware of these factors as they look to evaluate student learning.

Factors to consider:

  1. Use multi-tiered supports and universal screening to identify and address students' needs
  2. Prepare and equip staff with appropriate skills to implement, monitor, and interpret non-academic results
  3. Engage students, parents, and community partners to gain a deeper understanding of students' experiences outside of school


Methuen Public Schools is a state leader in designing programming and services to facilitate understanding of the whole child. Over the past few years, the district has developed and refined its approach to screening for depression and anxiety among students. The model relies on broad preventive screening coupled with intensive support and interventions for students identified with moderate to severe depression or anxiety. The results of this effort have demonstrated that Methuen’s mental health evaluation and service model is not only preventing crisis situations in schools and strengthening the school mental health infrastructure, but also leading to broader improvement in student behavior, engagement, and academic outcomes.

Serving all students 

Students enter the classroom with different skill sets, benefit from different instructional methods, and have different goals and interests once they leave school. Therefore, there needs to be a way to measure how well students are building the knowledge and competencies they need to succeed. Practitioners should consider how to apply innovative assessment practices in order to understand students as individuals.

Factors to consider:

  1. Integrate multiple means of assessing student learning within daily pedagogy 
  2. Support assessment models that integrate culturally and linguistically sustaining practices 
  3. Bring students into the process of co-designing assessments and measuring/understanding their own learning


In Natick and Newton, assessments are not viewed merely as a way for educators to evaluate student learning. Instead, they are tools for students to understand themselves and set a vision for their future. By engaging students in a participatory assessment process, both districts are gaining important knowledge about each student as an individual and preparing graduates to advocate for themselves and their interests. 

With input from students, families, and community members, Natick Public Schools developed a “profile of a graduate” that articulates the core elements that graduates should know and be able to do. Natick also developed a system of annual self-reflections and assessments aligned with this profile that all high school students use to gauge their abilities, interests, and future plans. Newton Public Schools, meanwhile, has built a robust approach to transition planning for students with disabilities. Students assemble a portfolio of assessments that document their personal strengths and needs. Throughout the process, they have the chance to share their perspective on which assessments worked for them and what they learned, building self-knowledge and helping define their own progress. 

Multiple pathways to success 

A holistic and equitable process of evaluating student progress must incorporate methods of understanding whether students are prepared to thrive in their own intended pathway. This means equipping schools to understand students’ goals and intentions, while also evaluating whether students have built the competencies they will need to access and advance in college or a career. A school system that supports multiple pathways allows students to choose from a variety of courses, programs, and learning opportunities that prepare students to progress beyond high school toward a goal aligned with their aptitudes and interests.

Factors to consider:

  1. Leverage community partnerships and other sources of information to understand what students know and can do, both inside and outside the classroom
  2. Understand and identify student aptitudes and how these can support thoughtful and effective planning regarding postsecondary pathways
  3. Ensure students develop transferrable skills and competencies to support success in college and career


Students in Vermont have many choices when it comes to how they will complete their high school experience and transition to a college or career pathway. Under Vermont’s Flexible Pathways Initiative, school districts create a menu of options for students: dual enrollment, early college, work-based learning, virtual and blended learning, a state-developed High School Completion Program, and career and technical education. In keeping with the proliferation of options, the state has also built into its accountability system two indicators that recognize the value in a variety of pathways. The first examines whether high school graduates received a passing score on one of eight college and career readiness assessments. The second looks at whether students are participating in college or career programming within 16 months after graduation. Tracking this data requires an investment in infrastructure and staff support, but it enables a broader understanding of school—and student—success.

Collecting & Sharing Data

These examples of innovative practice in the 2020 Action Guide demonstrate that district- and state-level leadership can prompt new methods of measuring student success. State and district leaders have also produced important advancements in the collection and use of student data, particularly data from novel sources. Each of these methods has the potential to impact policy debates in the coming years.

District practices: Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment

The Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment comprises eight school districts interested in rethinking how student learning and school quality are measured. The consortium has a two-pronged approach: 1) teachers learn how to develop, use, and share high-quality performance assessments, and 2) a five-part school quality framework brings together academic results, surveys, school administrative data, and other sources of information to provide a fuller picture of students’ experiences at school. MCIEA helps participating districts learn and value new ways of measuring student progress, while focusing greater public attention on the factors that affect school quality and student success.

State practices: Data alignment across education systems

The Commonwealth has taken a number of steps to promote vertical alignment of data across early education and care, elementary and secondary education, higher education, and beyond. For young learners, state leaders have been developing a system to track data across state-funded programs serving children from birth to age five; they have also created a survey to capture local data on students’ experiences prior to kindergarten. At the other end of the education pipeline, the Performance Measurement Reporting System examines whether institutions of higher education are promoting degree attainment in high-demand fields, among other critical workforce indicators, and uses an equity lens to examine disparities across student sub-groups.