This Thursday at 8pm CST #saskedchat will be exploring Assessment – As, For, and Of Learning.
As often happens in education, the discussion of assessment seems to result in polarization of ideas where individuals take an Either/Or stance. This can be seen on the discussion of homework vs stop homework, where discussions often take the well-worn path of the all-in/out stance. Inevitably this type of discussion polarizes the issue(s) which really doesn’t help anyone, except maybe those people trying to sell something (another little issue that is steadily creeping into educational discussions lately).
Assessment is a part of schooling and people seem to agree that assessment needs to change but, depending on your point of view and who you talk to, the way it needs to change is not necessarily clear. There are calls for eliminating high stakes testing as they are currently used while others point to their use around the globe with mixed results.
Assessment As, Of, and For Learning
There are many times during a day in which I am ‘assessed’. If I’m driving and a police officer is watching traffic, I will be assessed on how well I am following the rules of the road and adhering to the laws, at that particular instant. When I cook for my family, how well I do is ‘assessed’ by whether people like what was cooked or not. Depending on how you view assessment, each day we are assessed in a variety of ways, some more directly than others. Drive over the speed limit in a zone where there is photo-radar, you will probably receive a ticket for failing to follow the posted speed limit.
For teachers, ePortfolios, Project Based Learning, Problem Based Learning, Inquiry, Genius Hour, Maker Space, Kahoot, Socrative, Google Classroom, Freshgrade, Flipgrid and a variety of other tools and strategies are changing how teachers are engaging in assessment with students and is changing how teachers are using assessment in the classroom. As a way to frame the discussion of assessment, looking at “Why” one assesses can help to frame the discussion in a different way. In order to facilitate this changing assessment landscape, discussing assessment As, Of, and For Learning helps to differentiate the role of assessment and how it is used.
These are not new terms, nor are they necessarily new ways of looking at assessment. This differentiation does help to see how assessment has shifted from an end-of-unit exam or a 5 paragraph essay to something much more dynamic and complex.
Assessment As Learning
Assessment As Learning focuses on students self-monitoring their own learning. This is described as meta-cognition – the knowledge of one’s thinking.
Assessment as learning emerges from the idea that learning is not just a matter of transferring ideas from someone who is knowledgeable to someone who is not, but is an active process of cognitive restructuring that occurs when individuals interact with new ideas. Within this view of learning, students are the critical connectors between assessment and learning. For students to be actively engaged in creating their own understanding, they must learn to be critical assessors who make sense of information, relate it to prior knowledge, and use it for new learning. This is the regulatory process in metacognition; that is, students become adept at personally monitoring what they are learning, and use what they discover from the monitoring to make adjustments, adaptations, and even major changes in their thinking.
Helping students to understand their own learning is key in helping them develop skills to be life-long learners who will be able to meet the demands and challenges in a world that continues to rapidly change. No one is really sure what will happen in the next 10 years but it will probably be very different than it is today while remaining very similar in many ways.
Assessment For Learning
Assessment For Learning takes place throughout the learning process from the beginning of the school year until it ends. With the use of different digital platforms, this process can continue throughout the entire time a student is in school, with learning events and reflections occurring in a variety of ways all the while parts of these events being digitally captured to allow teachers, students, and parents to see the growth over time and identify areas that might need further development.
Assessment for learning occurs throughout the learning process. It is designed to make each student’s understanding visible, so that teachers can decide what they can do to help students progress. Students learn in individual and idiosyncratic ways, yet, at the same time, there are predictable patterns of connections and preconceptions that some students may experience as they move along the continuum from emergent to proficient. In assessment for learning, teachers use assessment as an investigative tool to find out as much as they can about what their students know and can do, and what confusions, preconceptions, or gaps they might have.
Organization such as Canadian Assessment for Learning Network support teachers, schools and parents with Assessment For Learning and work to provide great understanding about the role of Assessment For Learning and it’s use within the learning process.
Assessment Of Learning
Assessment of Learning can be described as a snapshot of a person’s learning at a particular point in time. This has traditionally been what was reported on a traditional report card with a grade.
Assessment of learning refers to strategies designed to confirm what students know, demonstrate whether or not they have met curriculum outcomes or the goals of their individualized programs, or to certify proficiency and make decisions about students’ future programs or placements. It is designed to provide evidence of achievement to parents, other educators, the students themselves, and sometimes to outside groups (e.g., employers, other educational institutions).
Assessment of learning is the assessment that becomes public and results in statements or symbols about how well students are learning.
Various school divisions in Saskatchewan, in Canada, and around the globe have begun to adopt a report card that focuses on feedback and growth as opposed to grades. As with all change, there is resistance of this form of reporting and, in some cases, a call to return to traditional grades.
What do you think?
This is just a very general overview of Assessment As, For, and Of Learning. There are many more nuances to assessment that often are not discussed. I would highly recommend you check out these resources for a much greater discussion of assessment:
Softening the Edges – by Katie White – an great book about many of the parts of assessment that don’t often get discussed. I highly recommend this book as it will challenge you to think of assessment in new ways.
Checking for Understanding – by Doug Fisher & Nancy Frey – A great book that highlights the use of Formative Assessment at all grade levels.
Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design – by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Jay McTighe – this has been my go to book for addressing the whole assessment piece – planning like an assessor not like an activity planner.
What do you think? What are your thought about assessment? How would you like to see things change?
Join #saskedchat Thursday night at 8pm CST as we explore this topic.
Get rid of grades.
Learners don’t need grades.
Throw out grades.
Over the past few weeks these statements have flittered across my twitter feed.
Many teachers I know are shifting and changing how assessment is done in their classroom. Many teachers I have worked with have already made this shift and are moving on. Although it may be something that isn’t common, it definitely isn’t new.
Ten years ago now, the school division I was working in began to move away from letter, percentage and other similar forms of grading in K – 8. Ken O’Connor’s book A Repair Kit: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades began a conversation about changing grading practices. Removing zeroes from assessment, allowing for flexible deadlines, creating rubrics and exemplars for students, providing formative assessment throughout the learning experience, Student Led Conferences, digital learning portfolios and online reporting were some of the shifts that took place as teachers moved away from traditional grades. It didn’t mean tossing report cards or jettisoning the use of tests but it did mean that teachers had to shift away from traditional grading practices, alter their assessment practices and shift away from testing.
Along the way, some teachers resisted, arguing that grades provided rigour and zeroes were a necessary as an incentive for students who didn’t hand in work. They resisted adopting a different mindset. Parents and students were also resistant – this wasn’t part of their worldview of school and learning.
Resistance Is Futile
Over time, those teachers who were resistant began to make changes to their assessment practices by changing their teaching practices and adopting such practices as peer feedback, self & peer assessment, formative assessment, and continuous feedback. This became the standard mode of operation as teachers shifted their teaching practices and restructured their planning. This happened through supporting and encouraging teachers through various PD experiences including division-wide inservice, conferences and developing PLC’s in schools. School leadership was a vital component of making a shift and helping to develop new cultures of learning in schools.
As a teacher, I have given very few tests over the past 15 years. My classes were project/inquiry based with a minimal amount of lecturing. Final grades were a combination of student/teacher input in senior classes while any middle years classes used a totally different approach to reporting on outcomes. This was not unusual for many teachers I have known who began to shift and integrate technology in the classroom, adopting
As an administrator, providing teachers with the necessary supports so they could transition from the traditional system was important because my own transition was supported through my own PD and learning. In the past 10 years I have worked in two schools were there were no letter/percentage grades in the K – 8. In grades 9 – 12 percentages were still provided at the end of the semester as they are required but assessment and reporting practices shifted to adopt continuous feedback throughout the learning experience. Project Based Learning and Inquiry were used by many teachers with formative assessment being provided on a continuous basis. Rubrics and feedback were used in all grades as was the use of digital portfolios. But assessment was not the focus – learning was.
The Future Has Arrived
For many teachers I work with, the shift away from traditional assessment began years ago. Students and parents have access to online information about student progress, online portfolios are shared with parents with regular updates of student work – they are developing a Portfolio Lifestyle as outlined by Jeff Goin – discussions about learning focus on growth and development not on grades. Student Led Conferences and Celebrations of Learning are opportunities for students to share their learning. Conversations revolve around improvement, learning from mistakes, support and growth. Marks are only discussed because of the need to provide them for reporting in grades 9 – 12. Formative assessment is part of every classroom with teachers using various tools to develop and improve the feedback and discussion that they are having with students.
This isn’t something to look forward to because it’s already been done – across whole divisions – successfully. The grading practices have shifted from the “test for mark” system to continuous feedback where formative assessment is incorporated into the planning, continuous access to growth is provided parents through online portals and portfolios, and testing is not the norm. Granted it’s not everywhere but it isn’t just a few random teachers who are trying to make change – it’s what all teachers are expected.
In making this shift, the discussion about education needed to change. Trying to convince people to change their worldview about grades and grading is very hard if that is where you begin the discussion.
Reward Risk-taking Not Failure
In the podcast the Accidental Creative, Todd Henry explores how creativity can be developed and cultivated. In his recent interview with Ron Friedman, they discuss his latest book The Best Place to Work. One of things that really struck me was the idea that many people and companies say they want people to be risk-takers and innovative yet they don’t reward people for being risk-takers and innovators. Instead, the pervasive climate of efficiency and the bottom-line continue to dominate the workplace. In schools, we hear the same thing. We want students to be innovative and take-risks but instead of focusing on creating the optimal space for doing this and developing a story for students to be risk-takers and innovators, we continue to discuss the same bottom line – assessment. The thru-line of the story is not risk-taking or innovation – it’s assessment and reporting.
Changing the story to allow for teachers and students to be risk-takers and innovators requires a change in mindset. It also requires that the focus of schools be learning where risk-taking and innovation are the focus of the story not the assessment. Maybe throwing out grades eliminates the punitive assessment practices but it still focuses on assessment. To create a climate for risk-taking and innovation, a focus on learning as a whole is critical to helping to change the mindset of people – a new story where risk-taking and innovation are central to the learning needs to be told.
Talk About the Learning
Many people have a fixed mindset when it comes to grading and grades. In other words they have “a set of beliefs or way of thinking that determine’s one’s behaviour, outlook and mental attitude.” It’s part of their cultural worldview and, as Seth Godin points out, getting people to change their worldview is very difficult – it’s admitting they’re wrong.
In my experience over the last 10 years with shifting mindsets and school cultures away from traditional practices, talking about grading and grades is the least effective way to create a shift. Instead, talk about learning.
When you discuss learning, it’s leads to a discussion of including and using formative assessment, the effective use of digital portfolios, the focus on taking risks, making mistakes, creativity and development, the use of differentiation for all students and the use of maker space/genius hour/inquiry/problem based learning.
It allows the conversation to examine the different skills that people will need in the future and how these skills are built into learning through the use of collaboration, peer-assessments, continuous formative feedback, differentiation and the opportunities for redo’s where learning isn’t finite but truly life-long. Talking about assessment and grades misses out on the important part of the story – the learning.
Change the Story of School
Many people have a very static picture of school. Too often I hear/read about students still in desks, where rote copying off the board is the norm and weeks of standardized testing take place every year. Honestly, I have no idea what that is like. My own transition began 15 years ago when I removed the desks from my grade 7 classroom and began to explore Inquiry Learning. I quit giving finals 10 years ago when I once again began teaching senior Social Studies and PAA classes. My own experiences reinforced that talking about grading and grades was beginning with the wrong end of the learning story.
As an administrator, changing the story of what happens in school is important. Connecting parents with classes and the school via social media allows parents to see that the story of school and the story of learning are changing and changing for the better for their children. Helping parents and students who were use to the traditional forms of learning and assessment is essential in helping a school culture transition. Telling a different story allows people to see themselves in a new way within the storyline. Without telling a complete story, but starting with assessment and grading, people are disconnected from the changes taking place in classrooms and the school, imposing their own story of learning which is incompatible with the changing story of assessment.
My work with teachers and their stories of connection and change through connecting online make me more appreciative of the need to listen to the stories that people are telling about school and learning. In a world that is hyper-focused on assessment and grading, the story of learning is a by-line when it should be the headline. For decades the focus has been on test results, so much so that the current educational environment seems to rarely focus on the learning – it’s all about assessment. Maybe it’s time to change the story…..
…. what would happen if learning and development were the focus of discussion rather than assessment and changing grading?
….. why people continue to only tell a small part of the learning story with a focus on the end instead of the journey?
…. what would happen if teachers were asked to focus on learning and innovation as much as they are being told to focus on assessment and assessment practices?
….. what if the assessment rhetoric shifted to focusing on learning, risk-taking and innovation?
Rethinking Homework by Cathy Vatterott discusses the place homework has in school life. She explores the beliefs behind homework and then looks at strategies for assisting students with completing homework. I especially found the first portion of the book very helpful. The discussion about the beliefs about homework (p10-24) provided some good information that I have used when discussing the reason that our school has moved away from assigning homework.
At the last school where I was an administrator, we did not give homework. Having worked through Ken O’Connors book A Repair Kit for Grading Assessment and divisional directives around assessment and reporting, the staff focused on making sure that all assignments – formative and summative – were essential and directly linked to a Learning Outcome from the Provincial Curriculum. This focus meant that work done in the classroom was not to be “busy work”. Because teachers used UbD for their planning and DI and RtI were part of the planning process, teachers didn’t need to create “busy work”. Anchor Assignment – an assignment that is related to the unit of study but is complex in design – was used by some teachers so that any student that completed their work could then move to work on this if there was time. This focus on quality assignments – not quantity of assignments – eliminated the “Late Homework” problem. Instead, students were working in class and, if needed, at home on assignments.
This elimination of “homework” does not mean that students might not be asked to complete an assignment at home or might not be given a formative assessment to complete for the next day. However, these assignments are directly related to the specific outcome and any formative assessment is not included in the student’s overall grade. Since I teach a senior Social Studies class, students work on projects that are fairly in-depth in nature. This means that, after working through a particular part of a unit, students will be asked to complete an assessment. Some students finish in the class while others work on the assessment out of class. This type of assessment is different than something where I might ask students to do a quick reflection for tomorrow’s class on the video clip we watched. The reflection might be posted, shared in groups or randomly picked to share with the class – I would take them in to look at but it is an assessment given to inform my instruction – a formative assessment. I do give summative reflective pieces to complete – usually to compare two points of view or a variety of different ideas. These would be summative, directly linked to an outcome and would have a particular format which we had agreed upon as a class – there would be specific criteria for students.
Homework – Family and Research
The next two sections in the book are informative and provide practical tips and information in relation to communicating with families about homework. The information and checklists for beginning a discussion with families about homework are useful tools to help a teacher or school begin a dialogue with parents around homework. It also provides some solid information related to research on homework which will benefit anyone in a position where they are discussing with other the need to change the current homework structure.
Effective Homework Practices
This section discusses a number of different ways that homework can be redistributed through the school day. As an administrator, one of the key areas that I have focused upon is ensuring that assessment is linked to outcomes and the work students are doing is meaningful work. This doesn’t mean that all students get the assignments finished in class by the assigned due date. To assist these students, we have an Assignment Assistance at noon where students are assigned to complete their work. Since these assignments are directly linked to outcomes and are required for reporting, there is no option but to finish them. We provide supervision during these times. Teachers, using a Google Doc, assign students to the Assignment Assistance, indicate the work needing to be completed and that they have contacted the parent to let them know of the work needing to be done. This has been a critical part of reducing the number of assignments not be completed on time. In situations when we begin to notice a pattern of uncompleted work, the student is then referred to the school RtI team for support. We also have options for students to stay after school to work in the library or computer lab if arrangements are made with a teacher.
As an administrator, it’s been crucial to the work we do to have conversations with parents. Parents send their best children to school each day! They want their children to be successful and want us to help them. Sometimes there are different circumstances that are out of our control and we need to acknowledge these. These circumstances do not influence the whole situation and there is much that we, as educators, can do to provide the conditions for a student to become successful. Not all students can be successful in the traditional classroom setting or who need assistance. This is where, as administrators, we work with parents, teachers and other support personnel to create support for the student to meet their learning goals. It’s essential to discuss with parents, especially those in the school parent-group – the changes that are taking place. An Open House that focuses on changes in grading, homework and assessment was a great way to introduce these ideas to our parents. This has been followed up with information in our school newsletter and information provided to parents at Student Led Conferences. Regular conversations with our School Community Council members has provided them with background information that has helped them in their discussions with other parents. We need to remember that parents are our best allies when it comes to helping transition during times of change.
Working with teachers as they shift from a traditional homework-based mindset requires that administrators are able to discuss with teachers, as a staff and as individuals, the current practices of the school and then outline a plan for transition. This book – Rethinking Homework – and the one I mentioned earlier by Ken O’Connor – are good resources that administrators can use to begin the discussions. It’s important that, as an educational leader, you are able to not only articulate the change but also that you have a practical understanding of how this will impact classroom assessment, classroom management dynamics, teacher planning, Student Led Conferences, student expectations and other such areas within the school culture. Reviewing the student handbook and visualizing the impact changes will have on various aspects is a good place to start. Also, looking at what you did as a teacher and how your own teaching would/will need to change to facilitate these changes is imperative. As you work through your own planning and how these changes impact the different aspects of the classroom/student interactions/assessment will provide you with ideas and links so that when you discuss this with teachers, you can connect with what the teachers are doing and some of the frustrations/anxiety they may be feeling. Being able to say “I had a similar frustration when I was looking at this area of planning/assessment” opens up the opportunity for dialogue.
As an educational leader, my focus was always on “Doing what is best for students”. Sometimes, this meant that adults were uncomfortable or a bit “put out”. It also meant that I had to reflect regularly on what I was doing and reference what I was doing from a student perspective. As educational leaders, we need to be constantly learning and reflecting on our current practices, what is taking place in the school and what is taking place in education in a larger context. By being connected, through various social media like google+, Pinterest, Twitter, RSS feeds and taking part in conversations at the local, district, provincial/state and federal levels, we can anticipate and plan instead of receive and react. This allows us to help teachers, students and parents through the various changes instead of being in a reactionary state which isn’t always the best during times of change.