Thinking about assessment

About eight months ago, a group of colleagues and I worked together to write our school’s assessment policy. We consulted research, investigated what other PYP schools were doing, wrote definitions, and collected samples of assessments being used by different teachers within our school. We wrote a statement of beliefs about assessment, shared it with our colleagues and refined it based on their feedback. We solicited input from a representative group of parents and our school board. The purpose of this document is to outline our beliefs and drive assessment practice within our school.

We shared the final document with staff in October…

and witnessed little to no change in practice.

Clearly I need to spend some time with my staff working through the implications of our assessment policy on their practice, because it should result in a dramatic shift in how assessment is carried out within our school. There should be daily evidence of how teachers use informal and formal assessment data to inform their daily planning. There should be evidence of a wide range of assessment tasks being used. There should be evidence of students having opportunities to use the feedback they received to improve on a piece of work. Teachers should be able to speak knowledgeably about what their students are and are not yet understanding.

Yet very little of this evidence exists.

As I am at the beginning of this inquiry, I am not yet absolutely sure of the lens I want to take or even what my driving question will be. I know I want to better understand teacher perceptions on assessment and how this impacts on their communication of expectations towards students and how they do or do not use assessment to inform their teaching. Perhaps a look into the historical and philosophical roots of assessment will be a good starting place.

I also want to determine how I can help my teachers translate our policy into their own practice. My ultimate goal will be to develop a workshop for teachers on assessment in align with my school’s assessment policy and then provide them on-going feedback on their assessment practices using the beliefs and practices of our assessment policy.

6 thoughts on “Thinking about assessment

  1. Hi, Heidi!
    One quick thought: what kinds of evidence was your team looking for as concrete demonstrations of multiple kinds of assessment in use? Would it be helpful, in the coming year, to work with a small focus group of willing staff members? Another strategy you could consider using staff-wide might be to break the process and/or expectations into shorter steps. It might be that your colleagues were already feeling overwhelmed and thus disinclined to make the planning, implementation, and tracking of improved assessment part of their routines. What if the goals were outlined as a matrix menu: choose one option from each column of three methods of assessment, tracking, and demonstration, to be completed within x period of time?

    1. Hi Victoria,
      I asked the team to speak with their colleagues and collect examples of the types of assessment they were already using. There was a range and it was clear that some teachers had a strong understanding of the teaching-assessing-planning cycle, while in other classes it was all summative one shot assessment and the “I know my kids” mental assessment. This collection was useful as it helped us to see what we already do well and where we need to go and we made this focus of the assessment policy – it has a much more rounded perspective on assessment.
      I like the idea of the matrix, it would give teachers more choice and control. I’ll have to give this more thought and see how we could perhaps use our PLCs to help teachers with this. Perhaps each term they could group together with other people who have chosen the same goal and then share how they are doing it within their teaching spaces… Definite food for thought. Thanks!

      1. That’s a very familiar situation — we have that range of responses in my school, as well. I suspect that it can be easy for us to forget as we get busy and try to keep up with all the things happening in our classrooms that documentation is important. Changing practice takes time and effort, as well as the willingness to do so. I’m glad you were able to get the information you needed, though.

        Now I’m interested in doing a matrix as well!

  2. I hear your pain Heidi and it sounds like you’ve got your work cut out for you there. Although you are working with professionals, you may want to approach this situation similarly to how you would a class of students. How many times have we put so much effort into a preparatory piece or lesson for students only to have them receive it with apathy or misunderstanding? In my experience, there is a mix of both but I have learned that in most cases where students don’t buy in to something new/big it is because the task seems daunting or they just don’t know what and/or how to do it. Perhaps you could start with the workshop idea. With your working group, collaboratively develop mini-lessons with an exemplar for each of the four main things you want to see: how to use informal and formal assessments to inform daily planning, various assessment tasks, what various opportunities for students to use feedback looks like (a scenario using a writing assignment for example), and clarify for teachers how they are expected to describe “knowledgeably about what their students are and are not yet understanding” as this can take on many modes of transmission beyond discussion like written feedback on student work (strengths and next steps), discussion with parents and colleagues, report card comments etc. After this series of mini-lessons is complete devise ways to monitor but continue to approach it as a work in progress, heavy on mentorship and light on evaluation. You know your colleagues, I don’t, but I want to do right by my students, I just don’t always know exactly how to and are apprehensive to show that I don’t because I feel that I should know how to do everything because I graduated from teacher’s college. What do you think? Am I off base here?

    1. Hi Ryan,
      Great advice. I agree completely. My teachers are hard working and willing, so the fact that the policy didn’t result in change is a clear indication to me that they didn’t really understand it or how to implement it. I like the idea of developing exemplars. In my experience with this group of teachers, they seem to take on new things best when they get to experience it personally, see someone else do it, and have documentation to refer back to. That’s why I wanted to provide them with feedback on their use of assessment, not as evaluation, but so they can experience it personally and reflect on how it felt, what it made them think about assessment, how it helped/hindered their learning and how they could apply it to their classroom practice. I’m thinking mostly informal feedback and then in teams we are going to use a couple of protocols to examine assessment data we’ll collect as a team and work together to decide the next steps for teaching.
      My real issue is that I have lots of ideas and need to figure out how to pull them all together in a meaningful way, but I also need to somehow elicit what my teachers really think about assessment, as they all contributed to the philosophy section, yet their practices don’t match.

  3. Hi Heidi,

    (Note: I replied to this blog post in the first week, but when I was looking at your blog now I didn’t see my comment, so I’m reposting! I’ve been having a little trouble getting my replies to show up on some blogs. My original post is below.)

    Creating an assessment policy is a difficult job! My school did almost the same thing regarding assessment this past year. A group of teachers got together to determine the school’s assessment policy (particularly with regard to reassessment) and led discussions at staff meetings to gather feedback from everyone in the formation of their draft policy. I wasn’t on the committee, but I am tempted to say that there wasn’t a lot of change in assessment following these discussions at my school either. However, it did get us thinking about assessment and set the stage for later change.

    In addition to having a committee focused on assessment, one of the things that the administrators did was to have all the teachers on staff read Tom Schimmer’s book “Grading from the Inside Out” over the summer. We then had one of our in-house professional development days dedicated to discussing the book. While there was some grumbling from the teachers about having to read the book, it does have a handy summary of each chapter at the end (for those who wanted to skim it) and really guided our discussion. It put us all on the same page about what assessment means, how to effectively use it, and the terminology of assessment. Just having a common language and a framework for assessment to discuss (whether we agreed with Schimmer’s ideas or not) was really helpful. Would it work for your school to have a workshop that centers around a response to an assessment policy or idea? Sometimes it is easier to define your ideas by analyzing your reaction to someone else’s thoughts.

    There’s a link to the book / author’s website here if you’re curious:

    Good luck… and as other commenters have mentioned, change happens slowly. You might just be planting seeds for thought at this stage.


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