Sunday, February 6, 2011

Why are we talking about an assessment policy?

What does policy have to do with assessment anyway? If you're one of the persistent few who have been following this blog for some time (I admit, it's not that easy to find), you've noticed that I've been discussing policy along with the idea of assessment "for", "as" and "of" learning.
Most people think of policy as something that gathers dust on the shelf, or at best, a bunch of restrictive rules to be ignored if at all possible.  Since assessment and evaluation are at the heart of teaching practice, it may seem like a deal killer to link such a personal part of teaching practice to policy.  
But, if we think of policy as simply a way of  putting our common values into words, it begins to make a little more sense to use a proposed draft policy to start the conversation we need to have about how to use assessment and evaluation to help students be as successful as possible.   Instead of forcing a change, the proposed policy can be a catalyst for the deep and ongoing conversation we need to have about this topic and how it relates to student learning.  Responding to the draft policy at this point becomes a way to share our practices and values on this topic.

The draft policy simply says:

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.

Richmond teachers have a 12 year history of work on assessment "for", "as" and "of" learning.  Active  study groups have been meeting over a long period of time, and there are many teachers who are regularly exploring these ideas in their practice.  The ongoing grade 8 projects around literacy in each school are based on the idea of using Performance Based Assessment evidence to plan instruction to improve reading comprehension.  The teachers design the assessment together, plan together and discuss the results on a regular basis.  The results are impressive - the students in these particular classrooms improve significantly in the reading skills taught over the course of the year.  This is a classic example of using assessment "for" learning to focus teaching in specific areas.
If we combine this long-term exploration of assessment in various areas in the school district with the idea that our primary job is to help our students do their best, now is the time to broaden the conversation and begin to share perspectives on  assessment and evaluation across the district.  Responding to the draft policy open up possibilities for beginning that wider conversation. For more thoughts on this read the previous post entitled "Draft Policy Seeking Response".

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