REFLECTIONS ON BUILDING ASSESSMENT LITERACY
As a team, with members across areas and schools, we put our understandings on the table – and supported each other’s thinking as we questioned long standing practices which were heavily influenced by percentages, grades, evaluation and school standings.
Discoveries about Assessment
In considering what the influences have been on my own understanding of sound assessment practice, I think first of my experiences years ago with YRDSB’s assessment literacy project. As a team, with members across areas and schools, we put our understandings on the table – and supported each other’s thinking as we questioned long standing practices which were heavily influenced by percentages, grades, evaluation and school standings. We moved forward quickly and Assessment for Learning quickly became our collective learning goal and the underpinning of changed practice. It took us a while to truly unpack what Assessment as Learning really meant and there was no getting away, especially at report card time, that the pressure to have documentation for Assessment of Learning remained a sleeping giant in our lives as educators. Here are some of my discoveries:
(1) Structure drives behavior: The way we organize ourselves makes a difference to our professional behavior. System leaders who model a co-learning stance build credibility and commitment (Sharratt & Planche, 2016, p. 67). This was really driven home for me as principals, teachers, curriculum consultants and SO’s sat together to unpack classroom assessment practice.
Good assessment practice takes time and it becomes dynamic when we can learn together or what now call co-learn. Making time for educators to work together is not a simple thing but a crucial ingredient to building capacity across classrooms and schools.
(2) Some structures can drive learning: Learning communities or learning networks can be effective when there is a clear goal that is understood and everyone is involved in defining what the criteria of success should be. The “what” needs to be followed by the “how” and the “ when”. It is the actions of the learning structure that make the difference for building capacity and improving instruction and assessment practice. Without accountable actions and monitoring, we might have wonderful professional conversations and not make a difference at all.
What is hopeful is that using protocols for learning can focus the learning and mitigate the tendency of groups to spend a lot of time talking with not enough focused decision making and action. (3) There are pitfalls to consider: We always have to consider the impact of any practice – instructional or assessment-based through the eyes of those who will be impacted by it. Students need to be a part of norm setting, creating success criteria and reinforcing goals if we want them to have ownership of their learning. As educators, we often control a great deal of the learning process to the detriment of student empowerment. We have to discuss more often what assessment looks like in an environment where we are gradually but intentionally trying to release responsibility. (4) A case management approach can be highly effective for students who struggle (Sharratt & Fullan, 2012). It can make personalization very relevant for all the staff who are engaging with a student or group of students. This is not just a strategy for special education or ESL students. Assessment is a first step but the next steps are the most important ones. What will we feedback to the student is important and what will we feed forward for instructional purposes? A case management approach builds a team approach to serving students if everyone takes responsibility for their part of the “case”. (5) Moderation of student work is one of the best ways to build trust and professionalism if it is facilitated well. There are skills sets involved in moderation that we need time to develop and practice. But this is so worth it! This is one of the foundations of collaborative learning that can make a significant difference. Here is what I am still wondering about! Teaching through strengths is in its infancy in assessment practice from my experience. We assess children and find out their gaps. Do we talk enough about teaching through their strengths? Do we value strengths enough to build assessments around them so that students can be as successful as possible or are there still underlying issues of what “fairness” looks like? If a child has a modification to allow an area of strength to lead, is this truly seen as levelling the playing field? There is still lots to think about! And thus, at this stage of my career where I have moved from full time public education to consulting and graduate education, I am left with one enduring truth. Learning is the work! Effective assessment practice is primarily about learning - the student's and mine!.
Beate Planche Ed.D.