Community members join GVSU leaders to reimagine ways to measure achievement in education

A design session hosted by Grand Valley drew together leaders and experts from K-12 and higher education, nonprofits and the business community to envision a next-generation educational system that recognizes the full experiences and potential of learners of all ages.

The NextEd Credential Design Sprint held on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus was hosted by President Philomena V. Mantella, Kevin Polston, superintendent for Kentwood Public Schools and Steven Hodas, executive director of the GV NextEd Co-Lab. 

The mission was to explore new opportunities that allow for more educational access, appreciation of the many ways learning happens and capturing and rewarding a wider range of knowledge and skills. 


A person standing next to a table where four people are seated gestures while talking to one of them.
Sujata Bhatt, standing, facilitated the session. Bhatt speaks with Kevin Polston, superintendent of Kentwood Public Schools, who was one the hosts of the session.
A graphic on the screen with the words K-12, higher education and career is in the foreground. Tables of people are in the background.
Stakeholders from numerous professions gathered to discuss innovative ways to measure achievement in education.

"To meet the needs of today's and future learners, we need education systems that validate the wide array of skills and attributes needed from early childhood through a long, varied career," Mantella said. "Having this group of stakeholders from various professions take the time to reimagine how we measure achievement in education is energizing and inspiring." 

Polston highlighted the power trying some new things collectively.

"To truly achieve excellence and equity, we also need innovation," Polston said. "We need to act now. We need urgency."

The current educational system of certifying success through measurements such as transcripts and test scores doesn't capture a person's full abilities, organizers said.

The options for attaining and measuring competencies have broadened, they said. A talent portfolio showing a wide range of experiences, obtained both formally and informally, provides a fuller picture of an individual.

Participants recounted some learners they have known and how the current system impeded their potential:

  1. Students who showed unexpected entrepreneurial chops outside the classroom.
  2. Middle schoolers in a city who had already developed life skills to get to school that resemble a work commute.
  3. An adult learner whose job experience catapulted him farther down the educational track than expected.
  4. A student who knew how to play by the rules of the system to show achievement attained, but who wasn't taking the chances that truly unlock potential.


A person seated at a table looks at another person. That person's hand is on their chin.

Given that the range of skills and knowledge sought by lifelong learners or needed by institutions or employers is expanding and attainable in both formal and informal contexts, participants considered this: What if learners controlled their own records in a kind of wallet where service organizations, internship providers and more could input certifications of competence directly to that wallet?

"It's a win-win. Let the institutions focus on the business of learning, and the learners can share who they are and narrate a story of what they're becoming," said Sujata Bhatt, an innovation strategist who facilitated the session. "You don't do that by pulling a transcript here and a letter of recommendation there."

After a day of advancing their thinking and exploring how these innovative opportunities would affect learners, institutions and employers, the work will continue as participants refine what they discussed and consider education and employer partnership possibilities.


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