Monday, December 13, 2010

Changing Education Paradigms

On the right I've added a link to a clip narrated by Sir Ken Robinson called "Changing Education Paradigms". If you haven't seen it it's worth a look, as it will make you think - and think again. For one thing, Robinson takes on the whole "academic" versus "non academic" tradition and puts it in its place, which is essentially in history books. He also has his own view on attention deficit disorder. According to Robinson, the the deficit has a lot to do with how children are taught rather than their inability to focus. Those are just a couple of the ideas tossed about in this provocative video.

The idea that we need to align assessment with giving students meaningful feedback that helps them learn fits right in with the idea of doing some deep thinking about education and its purposes. This includes what schooling consists of today and that much of it is incompatible that is with our students and their reality now and in the future. Viewing this clip is a good warm up for reading and responding to the draft assessment and evaluation policy posted below.

Assessment and Evaluation - Draft Policy Seeking Response

Assessment: A Draft Policy Seeking Feedback

After a long incubation period, the Response Draft for Policy 607 (Assessment and Evaluation) is now in circulation. The entire draft is posted below for you to read at your leisure. Far from being a boring stack of documents (such as the bulky pile on the left), policy can be pretty exciting, especially when it's being created.

Really? you say. Yes, really, especially when it has implications for teaching practice.

The policy below is divided into three parts: Policy; Regulation and Guidelines.


The policy portion is nice and short, and it should be. Policy is simply a statement of an organization's values around a particular topic. In practice assessment and evaluation practices are in constant flux between developing students' abilities and sorting them according to whether or not they already have it. The policy is the place to set out basic principles and beliefs that assessment, along way a way of reporting on student progress, is a way to help students learn and teachers plan.


The Regulation is the part of policy that everyone knows, the part you have to do. In this case the only thing that has to be done is what follows:

In order to ensure some discussion and consistent practices in the school community, each school will develop a brief statement of purposes and practices consistent with the assessment and evaluation guidelines associated with these regulations.

Sounds easy, but it won't be, as assessment and evaluation are key t0 teaching practices, and many people, both staff, students and parents, haven't really had the chance to think much about using assessment and evaluation as a teaching and learning tool rather than simply a reporting tool. The conversation and debate that go into creating a statement are the point here. The regulation is really there to ensure that people engage in some thinking and discussion of their assessment and evaluation practices.


Guidelines are ways to describe what the policy looks like in practice. A few guidelines are included as a preview below. For example, draft guidelines include statements that assessment and evaluation should:
  1. Engage students in monitoring and critically reflecting on their learning in a variety of ways.
  2. Provide students with opportunities for adjusting, rethinking and talking about their learning.
  3. Inform teacher judgment about student learning.
  4. Be based on work present, not work absent.
That last one should give people something to talk about. Another conversation starter, in case you're looking for one, is to ask people whether effort should be included as part of a grade for a course.

The Response Draft follows. Please add your comments on the blog and they'll be included as part of the official response.

Response Draft- Policy 607 (Assessment and Evaluation)

Assessment and Evaluation: Supporting Student Growth, Enhancing Student Learning And Achievement
The primary purpose of assessment and evaluation is to support and enhance student learning. Assessment and evaluation support student learning by providing feedback that informs teachers and students about what has been learned and what is not yet understood.
Assessment and evaluation practices are integral to the planning and delivery of curriculum and to implementing instructional approaches to best meet student needs and ways of learning, thereby supporting and enhancing student growth and achievement.

Policy 607-R
Assessment and Evaluation: The Key to Student Growth And Learning
As feedback on learning, communication with parents and students and a record of student progress, assessment and evaluation are key to student learning. Staff, students and parents at each school site should have a clear sense of the principles of assessment and evaluation that underlie practice and enhance student growth, learning and achievement.
In order to ensure some discussion and consistent practices in the school community, each school will develop a brief statement of purposes and practices consistent with the assessment and evaluation guidelines associated with these regulations.
The school statement will:
  • state the school’s current practices around assessment and evaluation along with the values and purposes that underlie those expectations.
  • be developed and communicated in a way that promotes common understanding and commitment. Staff, students and parents will be involved in development of the school Assessment and Evaluation Statement of Purposes and Procedures.
  • be reviewed annually through an inclusive process involving staff, students and parents and communicated at least annually to staff, students, parents and then to the general school community.

Policy 607-G
Assessment and Evaluation: Guiding Instruction To Enhance Student Growth And Learning

The primary purpose of assessment for and as learning is to inform students and teachers about students’ progress in various stages of acquiring new skills and knowledge. The information gathered is descriptive rather than evaluative, and serves as feedback so that as students practice they can extend what they have learned. This information also helps teachers plan where to go next with instruction based on student understandings of the material.
The primary purpose of evaluation is to make informed judgments about what students have learned based on assessment of learning evidence. These judgments are made by comparing valid evidence of student learning to standards of performance as related to prescribed curricular learning outcomes. Students as well as teachers should be clear on the standard of performance used to make these judgments.
There are three types of classroom assessment described by the Ministry of Education:
  • Assessment for learning refers to formative assessment by which teachers collect information about student development. Assessment for learning is ongoing and provides the basis for determining what the teacher should do next to move student learning forward.
  • Assessment as learning refers to the active involvement of students in being critical assessors who work with the teacher to become more aware of their own learning goals and how to effectively address them. The goal is for students to become aware of what helps them learn better and achieve better results, thus increasing their role in contributing to their own improvement.
  • Assessment of learning refers to summative assessment whereby teachers collect data from a variety of sources to evaluate student performance in relation to curricular learning outcomes. This informs students, parents and others about student achievement.
Assessment and evaluation are related, but serve different purposes and have distinct meanings.

Assessment and Evaluation practices should:

  1. Use a range of methods that assess both the process and products of students’ knowledge, skills and understandings.
  2. Be focused on the clearly identified curriculum outcomes and criteria used to evaluate performance.
  3. Inform teachers as they plan for instruction and enable them to determine next steps in advancing student learning.
  4. Include a clear description of learning intentions and standards for students and parents.
  5. Be ongoing and offer many opportunities for students to receive descriptive feedback on their learning.
  6. Engage students in monitoring and critically reflecting on their learning in a variety of ways.
  7. Provide students with opportunities for adjusting, rethinking and talking about their learning.
  8. Respect the developmental differences of the learner by differentiating instruction and recognizing that students learn at different rates and in a variety of ways.
  9. Provide opportunities for students to demonstrate the full range of their learning.
  10. Inform teacher judgment about student learning.
  11. Be based on work present, not work absent.
Related Resources: Also check out the Additional Resources Box to the right.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Time To Get Practical

Even if you find new ways of looking at assessment as a way to help students as they learn interesting, or even exciting, you may still be left with questions about exactly how to do this. Previous posts ( and I admit my posts have been few and far between lately) have been focused on assessment theory along with some stories about experiences with traditional assessment. Now it's time to provide you with some practical resources that show and describe how it's done.
A personal favourite is Ruth Sutton's archived presentation at Ruth has a practical way of putting things that makes sense and makes you wonder why you would do things any other way. In terms of local talent, the bcelc webcast series features Caren Cameron, Faye Brownlie, Linda Kaiser, Yrsa Jenson, Judy Halbert and others in the entire series at

I've posted a short video by Damian Cooper called Does the Drive to Quantify Learning Get in the Way of Learning? This clip poses some provocative questions about our "normal" assessment practices . This might be a good conversation starter for small and large groups, and it's short enough that it leaves you wanting more. The question it begs is whether the classroom environment actually gets in the way of learning. It just might, according to Cooper.

If traditional media is more your cup of tea, try these books on for size:

Creating Independent Student Learners: a practical guide to assessment for learning
Clarke, Owens and Sutton
Portage and Main Press (2006)

Making Classroom Assessment Work
Leading the Way to Making Classroom Assessment
Transforming Barrriers to Assessment for Learning
Anne Davies
Connections Publishing (2008)

The Anne Davies books are the focus for this year's assessment study group for adminstrators and are getting rave reviews from tht group, as they are a good blend of theory and practice, with the emphasis on the practical.

Check any or all of these out. Some just make you think, and others may make you change how you do things in the classroom.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Constructive Feedback - Be Kind to Ourselves

Thanks to Lorraine Minosky for the post below about what it's like to change assessment practices. The short answer? It isn't easy, but the struggle can be worth it. "Be kind to ourselves" is good advice as we work through how this works in classrooms.

Many of us are in different stages of the process of making changes to our assessment practice. From reflecting on our practice over the years or from reading the research, we are seeking ways to use assessment to support our students’ learning. There is a constant tension that nags at us and we’re seeing that the old ways are not working for many of our students.

When making changes, we dive in with the best of intentions but it can be overwhelming especially when our students, parents and colleagues resist when faced with looking at assessment in a different way. Making changes in such a complex aspect of our practice can be daunting. It becomes easy to fall back into our old ways, even when we know better.

At a recent Pro-D day session at one of our elementary schools, a wise colleague reminded us to, “Be kind to ourselves”. It’s so true. Starting small and focusing on one area is much more manageable than trying to change everything all at once. As your understanding deepens over the years, it becomes easier to apply our new understanding in other areas. When I started to make conscious changes to my assessment practice, I chose to focus all my energy in one area. I was facing weekly anxiety around the readers’ response journals that I would haul home on a Friday and then would sweat over late Sunday evenings. The students’ responses never seemed to move forward and I didn’t know how to respond effectively to them. Giving them a score out of five and repeatedly coaxing them to “add more detail” just wasn’t cutting it. They basically ruined my weekends. With the support of graduate programs and study groups, I set out to find ways to make changes and improve my reading program, especially in the area of assessment. Even though I struggled in many other areas of my teaching, I forced myself to stick to reading and kept other subject areas on the back burner. Developing rubrics, using performance standards effectively, involving students in setting criteria, using student response journal exemplars, assessing oral discussion group responses, and providing descriptive, focused feedback was where I channeled my energy. Eventually these skills began to spill over into other areas of my teaching. Gradually it all began to make more sense. I even began making changes to my assessment practice in math! Now there was a stretch!

However, learning is a spiral. It takes many turns around the loop and as we observe, reflect and ask questions we deepen our understanding. I couldn’t do it alone and I needed and still need many opportunities to articulate my learning and listen to colleagues. Explaining how and why we’re doing things to students and parents is especially challenging and they really force us to examine and question our practice. Moving schools and adjusting to a very different culture and environment was especially challenging and I fell off the wagon initially when I was once again being challenged as to why I was doing things differently. “No marks for math homework??!! Why should we do our homework then?”

Our district is gradually working toward developing a new assessment policy and I know this will spur many of us to make significant changes. It will be challenging and will overwhelm many of us. But if we remember to be kind to ourselves, start small and seek support from our colleagues, we’ll start to become more comfortable with our assessment practice. Maybe some of us will start to enjoy our weekends a little more!