Badges Are NOT Assessments

I believe we need to be very careful in the way we talk about badges. Badges are not assessments. A badge is something you receive after you successfully complete an assessment. The actual assessment could take the form of generic multiple-choice questions, a performance assessment, a portfolio evaluation, a construct-aligned bundle of context-dependent items, or whatever. If the person successfully completes this assessment, then they receive the credential. Badges are not assessments; badges are credentials – badges are things we award to people who pass assessments.

Many smart people – people who actually know what they’re talking about – are being less specific than they might in the conversation about badges. If we aren’t vigilant with our vocabulary, the general public will start thinking that badges are supposed to be assessments. If this happens, they’ll start expecting something from badges that badges can never deliver. Confusion early in the adoption process – especially among decision makers – will be a killer for the entire movement.

Also, it’s desperately important that we keep badges cleanly separated from assessments. What we don’t want to do is have badges inseparably tethered to a singe type of assessment in the public mind. You can imagine comments like, “Badges? That’s only good for performance assessment. I could never award badges in my context because I use more traditional assessments.” This is exactly what we don’t want. We want badges to be as broadly used as possible – which means we need everyone to understand that badges are compatible with any and every kind of assessment.

I don’t have a horse in the assessment game – I’m not trying to guarantee that traditional assessments continue to dominate education. I’m also not trying to radically reinvent assessment by inventing new task or item types and rewriting item response theory. I just want to protect the “open” in “open badges.” The badge system should be open from both a technology perspective as well as from a pedagogy / assessment perspective. “Open” means making sure we don’t exclude anyone – whether they are traditionalists or reformers.

I very much want to see badges succeed. But if we set badges up as something they aren’t (i.e., assessments), success will be impossible. Everyone involved in this endeavor – myself included – needs to all stay on message: “badges are credentials, not assessments.”