About the DiscoTest Initiative

Optimal learning for every child

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 student development should be at the center of all decisions about how to structure education, including decisions about educational assessment. (Dawson & Stein).

Student development should be at the center of all decisions about how to structure education.

In order to build assessments that benefit every student, we're creating a new kind of standardized assessment infrastructure—one in which every assessment event provides a learning experience for students, equips teachers with diagnostics for making evidence-based instructional decisions, and provides policymakers with information that can be employed to support teacher and curriculum development. Every DiscoTest includes the assessment itself (called a Teaser) and a set of argumentation rating scales, diagnostic reports, and instructional resources that are aligned with assessment outcomes and curricular objectives. DiscoTests are electronically scored with CLAS, our automated developmental scoring system.

Because they are composed of open-ended questions that require thoughtful written responses, and include evidence-based diagnostics and resources, DiscoTests are ideal for embedding in virtuous cycles of learning—cycles of goal-setting, knowledge seeking, application, and analysis.


And because all DiscoTests are standardized and calibrated to a single developmental metric, they are also ideal for large-scale evaluations of educational programs. In other words, DiscoTests are built to serve both formative and summative functions, ensuring that every moment devoted to testing is also a moment devoted to learning. Click here to learn more about our mission.


The DiscoTest learning cycle begins with a Teaser. At the core of all Teasers are one or more real-world problems or scenarios, focused on a specific set of skills or concepts. These are followed by a series of questions that require students to connect ideas, think through problems, and communicate their reasoning. 

We think of Teasers as “tests teachers want to teach to” because preparing students to do well on a Teaser requires helping them to (a) build a thorough understanding of targeted skills and concepts, (b) develop learning and reasoning skills, and (c) practice written communication skills.

Each Teaser is calibrated to a developmental scale known as the Lectical® scale, which is modeled on Dr. Kurt Fischer's dynamic skill scale. This scale represents levels of hierarchical complexity. Fischer's work integrates over 100 years of research in developmental psychology.

To calibrate a Teaser to the Lectical® scale, we first study how students learn the concepts and skills targeted by the particular Teaser. The research process provides unprecedented insights into the various learning pathways through which students master particular skills and concepts. These important insights are then used to populate reports and design learning resources. 

Teasers are learning tools. Teachers, students, and parents can use them to supplement instruction, to find out what students understand before instruction begins, to find out how much students’ understanding has changed as a result of instruction, and to observe learning over time. 

DiscoTest report card

DiscoTest Report Cards show student growth over time in a range of subjects. Because all Teasers are scored on the same scale, it's easy to compare progress across subjects.


Points on the DiscoTest report card represent assessment events. On a live report card, users can click on these buttons to view summaries of Teaser results or to jump to a specific report for more detailed information about a particular performance.

The DiscoTest Report Card provides a meaningful way for teachers, parents, and students to engage in learning. Teachers can gain a broader perspective on their students’ academic development. Parents can become more involved their children’s education. Students gain a more holistic sense of their own development over time, and have an opportunity to see themselves as successful learners.

Teaching and learning

DiscoTests are designed to help teachers support robust learning learning that is usable and provides a solid foundation for future growth. They do this in several ways:

  1. They help teachers personalize learning. DiscoTest reports provide teachers with the information they need to design learning experiences that meet the needs of every student. Feedback and resources are practical and actionable.
  2. They encourage teachers to support robust learning. To do well on DiscoTests, students have to understand what they have learned well enough to apply it—they have to learn robustly. Teachers will need to use teaching practices that support deep learning.
  3. They build teachers' understanding of development. DiscoTests are scored electronically with CLAS, and scoring is augmented with teacher ratings. Teachers use one or more built-in rating scales to evaluate aspects of student performances that are not measured with CLAS. This minimal teacher engagement creates many opportunities for teachers to observe the relation between student performances and CLAS scores. Through this exposure, they gradually build a strong intuitive understanding of student development.

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. They require students to reflect on their own performances.
  3. They are accompanied by richly formative reports—for both students and teachers—that include personalized formative feedback and learning activities.
  4. They 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.
  3. They are aligned with national learning standards.
  4. We plan to create many dozens of DiscoTests, covering a wide range of content and skills. Together they will constitute a new form of summative assessment, providing rich longitudinal evidence of student growth.

Current DiscoTests


Reflective judgment 

The LRJA (previously called the RFJ) is a set of DiscoTests that focus on students' critical thinking skills. Students are presented what is known as an ill-structured dilemma—a dilemma with no single correct answer. Through their responses to a series of prompts, students reveal how they think about inquiry, evidence, learning & the mind, truth & certainty, conflict resolution, persuasion, and deliberation.

Currently, there are several forms of the LRJA. Four of them are now being delivered in the free demonstration of our electronic scoring system, CLAS—the CLAS Demo.

The RFJ/LRJA is suitable for grades 4 and up.

Try it »


Physics of energy

LPOE is a set of DiscoTests that examine students' understanding of the physics of energy. Students are asked to ponder a series of scenarios involving bouncing, rolling, and stationary balls. Their answers reveal their understanding of kinetic and potential energy, energy transformation, and the conservation of energy, as well as the roles of forces and work in energy transformation and conservation.

Currently, there are 2 forms of LPOE, which are available for use in large-scale research or evaluation. In the future, we plan to add forms with items that focus on roller coasters, skate parks, and sports.

The LPOE is suitable for grades 4-13.


International conflict

LINC is a set of DiscoTest Teasers that present students with alternate versions of a conflict between small, formerly friendly, neighboring countries called Frogon and Mellos. The conflict involves rights to the ownership of newly discovered diamonds. Claims to ownership are based on who discovered the diamonds, historical ownership of the land, and current habitation by Mellites and Frogonites. In their answers, students explore these claims and alternative solutions, revealing the sophistication of their reasoning about property, conflict resolution, perspectives, history, and citizenship.

Currently, there are 2 forms of LINC, which are available for use in large-scale research or evaluation.

LINC is suitable for grades 6-12.


Particulate nature of matter 

LPNM is a set of DiscoTest Teasers that are concerned with the particulate nature of matter. These teasers ask students to consider real-world processes—like the water cycle—that involve condensation, evaporation, liquids, solids, vapor, mixtures, solutions, state change, and chemical reactions. The LPNM shares several constructs with the LCOM (conservation of matter).

Currently, there are 3 forms of the LPNM, which are available for use in large-scale research or evaluation. We plan to add additional forms in the future.

The LPNM is suitable for grades 4-13.


Conservation of matter

LCOM is a set of DiscoTest Teasers that present students with several scenarios involving interactions between substances at the molecular level. Students are asked to predict and explain changes in the mass of substances that undergo chemical and state change in open and closed systems. The LCOM shares several constructs with the LPNM (particulate nature of matter).

Currently, there are 2 forms of the COM, which are available for use in large-scale research or evaluation.

The LCOM is suitable for grades 6-13.


Environmental stewardship

LESA is a set of DiscoTest Teasers that are concerned with environmental issues. Students are asked to consider dilemmas involving tensions between different perspectives on ecological issues. Students' responses reveal how they think about the environment, why it is important, what it means to take care of it, and how changes in the environment affect people and other living things.

Currently, there are several forms of the LESA, which are available for use in large-scale research or evaluation.

The LESA is suitable for grades 5-13.


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