About the DiscoTest Initiative

Optimal learning for every child

Optimizing development should be at the center of all decisions about education.

At first glance, DiscoTests look like nothing more than high-quality formative assessments. But that’s just what’s on the surface. Underneath is a new approach to assessment—one that integrates insights from the learning sciences, psychometrics, teaching, and educational philosophy. DiscoTests are the elements of a new model for educational assessment that begins with the proposition that: "Optimizing development should be at the center of all decisions about how to structure education—especially decisions about educational assessment." (Dawson & Stein).

In order to build learning environments that benefit every student, we must abandon the notion that a standardized academic curriculum can provide a level playing field for all learners. People aren't standardized. They have different interests, talents, dispositions, and backgrounds. They learn at different rates, even when provided with the same opportunities. Standardized curricula are based on expectations that may be suitable for some students, but there is no such thing as a standardized curriculum that allows every student to develop optimally. Standardized curricula are inherently unfair simply because they are standardized.

We must also abandon the idea that academic learning is superior to other forms of learning. In fact, efforts to prepare all students for college systematically disadvantages students who are drawn to other forms of knowledge. For these students, an academic education wastes their learning time by depriving them of the opportunity to build knowledge and skills in areas of interest. Curricula that focus on preparing students for college also tend to denigrate non-academic forms of knowledge (and work) by sending the message that the academic track is the only way to achieve success or respectability.

Finally, we must shift the focus of education away from learning how to provide correct answers, which requires rapid processing and a good memory, toward developing richly interconnected agile minds, which requires continuous reflective application of knowledge in relevant real-world contexts. In a complex, information-rich, rapidly changing world, there is no longer a place for "Jeopardy" knowledge. We need competence, expertise, and mental agility, which can only be developed through the reflective application of knowledge.

To sum up, we need educational systems that:

  • Leverage the developmental potential of every student,
  • Honor the value of all forms of knowledge and work, and
  • Set learners on a path toward the development of competence, expertise, and mental agility.

Optimal learning

All of Lectica's learning tools, including our assessments, are designed to support and/or measure the kind of learning that supports the development of self-regulation, every-moment learning skills (micro-VCoLing skills), interpersonal skills, an earned sense of competence and mental agility.

DiscoTests give all students the opportunity to show off these skills and capacities, regardless of the particular knowledge areas in which they have been learning. Taking a DiscoTest is also a learning experience. DiscoTests are composed of real-world schenarios and a set of open-ended prompts that require thoughtful written responses that include explanation.

Currently available DiscoTests include the LDMA (Lectical Leadership Decision-Making Assessment) and the LRJA (Lectical Reflective Judgment Assessment). Both the LDMA and LRJA can be customized with a variety of dilemmas.

We also customize assessments for particular contexts. For example, some schools prefer to use Lectical Assessments to track development by using our system to score regular reflections or response papers.

DiscoTest reports, where available, support optimal learning by providing a rich variety of instantly actionable learning suggestions and activities that are designed to build essential real-world learning skills (micro-VCoLing skills) while building a wide array of essential knowledge and skills for life and work.

DiscoTests and other written material are scored for developmental level with CLAS, our electronic developmental scoring system. Scores represent positions along Fischer's skill scale (a.k.a the Lectical Scale). The scale is a life-span developmental scale that has emerged from almost a century of cognitive-developmental research in the Piagetian tradition. CLAS scores have been shown to be both accurate and fair.


Currently, both the LDMA and LRJA are available for research and evaluation purposes from grade 7 (age 12) through high school (age 18). Adult versions of these assessments are also available for educational use at the college level.

We are also currently making DiscoTests available free of charge to a small number of classroom teachers who have trained in their use. Please contact us if you are an educator who is interested in training to work with our assessments.

Once Lectica has secured adequate funding, we plan to make DiscoTests available free of charge to any classroom teacher who successfully completes our training program. Click here to learn more about our mission.

Teaching and learning

When students take a DiscoTest, they learn from applying their current knowledge and skills to a complicated real-world problem. They also learn from DiscoTest reports when they engage in suggested activities that are designed designed to support further development while building learning skills.

DiscoTests help educators build skills for supporting robust learning—learning that is usable and provides a solid foundation for future growth. All feedback and resources support micro-VCoLing, a learning practice that helps optimize the benefits of any application of knowledge.

Formative features

  1. DiscoTests ask students to put their knowledge and skills to work by making written arguments in response to open-ended real-world scenarios.
  2. Suggested learning activities build micro-VCoLing skills, which are required for optimal mental development.
  3. DiscoTests are accompanied by richly formative reports that include suggestions and activities that support optimal learning & development.
  4. Educators who work with DiscoTests have access to a repository of learning activities that can be selected to customize report feedback.
  5. DiscoTests can readily be embedded in any curriculum as diagnostic, formative learning tools.

Summative features

  1. DiscoTests are valid, reliable, and accurate measures of critically important—and neglected—academic and life skills.
  2. They are not only standardized, they are the only tests that are calibrated to a universal developmental metric—the Lectical Scale.
  3. Lectical Scores represent the level of complexity apparent in assessment responses. They are a measure of mental development (as opposed to correct answers).
  4. DiscoTests represent a new form of standardized summative assessment. The scores represent a standardized scale, but there are an infinite number of ways to achieve a particular score. This is standardization without homogenization.

Selected funders

IES (US Department of Education)

The Spencer Foundation


Dr. Sharon Solloway

The Simpson Foundation

The Leopold Foundation

Donor list

Selected clients

Glastonbury School District, CT

The Ross School

Rainbow Community School

The Study School

Long Trail School

The US Naval Academy

The City of Edmonton, Alberta

The US Federal Government

Advisory Board

Antonio Battro, MD, Ph.D., One Laptop Per Child

Marc Schwartz, Ph.D. and former high school teacher, University of Texas at Arlington

Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Ed.D., University of Southern California

Willis Overton, Ph.D., Temple University, Emeritus