As education leaders continue to engage in conversations on transforming assessment and accountability for our nation, they must prioritize elevating voices excluded from past education change efforts, including voices of young learners, especially those from communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities.

Too many young people have school experiences that leave them disengaged and ill-prepared for the future. In today’s system, there are limited opportunities for students’ interests, experiences, hopes, cultures and perspectives to be a part of their education. The current K-12 education system often minimizes identities and creates a homogeneous group of learners with identical needs and desires. Thus, the standards by which school quality and student achievement are defined serve as a significant barrier to more equitable and inclusive models and learner-centered systems.

In June 2023, KnowledgeWorks and a team of learner-centered partners from across the country hosted a convening aimed at reimagining today’s assessment and accountability systems. Youth played an integral role in this convening, serving as participants, activists and leaders of change. While there were a range of mindset shifts, strategies and roles needed for the youth-adult partnerships, the outcomes were invaluable. Recommendations outlined in the resulting report, Beyond the Horizon: Blazing a Trail to Learner-Centered School Quality Systems, were co-created with students, caregivers and educators as well as district, state and national leaders. Students not only had a seat at the table, they helped lead the discussion.

Including youth voices in efforts to change assessment and accountability systems allows education leaders to align school quality measures to student and community needs while fostering youth agency, youth engagement and community empowerment.

  1. Foster Agency: Elevating youth voice in assessment and accountability conversations creates opportunities for young people to demonstrate agency by applying their expertise in a high-impact setting. These opportunities are especially important for Black and Brown students so that they can serve as advocates, leaders and agents of change for their communities.
  2. Support Network Engagement: Authentically involving youth in education policy creates opportunities for students of color to establish a supportive structure of peers and young leaders. Creating a network of young change agents within communities of color fosters a positive sense of self, community, culture and purpose.
  3. Empower Communities: An assessment and accountability system that is inclusive of youth voices helps ensure that communities that are minoritized by the education system have the chance to challenge false narratives and assumptions. Young people are often the face of powerful movements as they have the potential to break the systemic barriers embedded in the traditional education system by distributing leadership to the community.

Read the full article about elevating youth voices by Kyle Anderson and Ly Iris at EdSurge.