Conclusions about our assessment policy

I spent some time the last few days reading over our school assessment policy and reflecting on it.

On the whole, I think it is a policy focused on the student. It addresses the relationship between assessment, self-efficacy, and motivation. It positions the student at the center of the assessment cycle and as an active particpant, with the ultimate goal of developing life-long learners. Attention is given to both the process of learning and the products students create as a result of their learning.

In thinking about our current practices, I think the area we currently do well is assessment of learning.

Assessment of Learning Summative Assessment – this type of assessment comes at the end of a task or grading period. The purpose of this type of assessment is to report on what students know, understand and can do at that point in time in reference to established curriculum outcomes and criteria. It is used primarily to provide evidence of achievement to students, teachers, and parents. Criteria for summative assessments need to be shared with students prior to the commencement of the summative task. Since summative assessments often contribute to important decisions that affect a student’s future, it is essential that the assessment is valid and fair.

Where we need to improve is in assessment for learning.

Assessment for LearningFormative Assessment – this type of assessment comes at the beginning of a new unit or topic and in the midst of the learning process. Assessment for learning attempts to make the student’s learning visible to the teacher so the teacher can decide how best to support the student. Formative assessments used at the beginning of a unit or topic is a pre-assessment. The purpose of pre-assessment is to gauge a student’s entry point and provide teachers with the information that they need to differentiate the topics and tasks to meet the needs of individual learners. The purpose of assessment in the midst of the learning process is to provide feedback to students and teachers so that they can modify their learning and teaching. It ensures that students are learning the necessary concepts, content and skills to reach the established curriculum outcomes measured in the summative assessments.

This is where I think we do ourselves and our students an injustice. While we plan formative assessment tasks, we often don’t do much with the results. For example, I was covering a class for a teacher who was out sick. At the end of the lesson I gave the students an exit slip to see who had understood the learning outcome of the lesson. I left them on the desk for the teacher and followed up a couple days later, asking if he’d received them and had a chance to reteach, as a number of the students held a misconception about the relationship between lines of symmetry and angles in regular polygons. He commented that he’d got the exit slips and reviewed them, but hadn’t retaught. I don’t think this is a one-off. I think it frequently happens that teachers collect evidence and review it, but aren’t sure what to do with it. Using the example above, the teacher said to me that he wasn’t sure what to do with the other half of the class who understood the concept while he was reteaching.

In thinking about what I need to do to support my teachers to improve their assessment practices, I think this is where I will focus my attention. I will address two big ideas:

  1. How to provide effective feedback
  2. How to use formative assessment data in daily teaching

A number of years ago a former principal I worked with led a series of staff workshops on using effective feedback. We were each given a copy of Susan Brookhart’s book How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students. I still refer to that book and we used it a lot in developing our assessment policy. I think I may do something similar, buy each teacher a copy that they can then read in and write in and reflect on, but I need to think through the process we will use so that it goes beyond reading and conversing and into doing.

My professional learning goal for next year is to use two protocols with my teaching teams to look at formative assessment data. I am hopeful that using these protocols will help give teachers strategies to understanding how to use data to inform daily teaching, but also to open up discussions about any struggles we are facing.

The question I am left with is assessment as learning. Is it right to leave self-assessment and peer assessment for later, particularly given its impact on self-efficacy?

6 Thoughts

  1. Hello Heidi,

    This was a very thought provoking post for me to read at this stage in my career.
    When I was in teacher’s college, Assessment for, of and as learning were popular buzz topics in our discussions, lessons and assignments. I suppose, in this way, these ideas are not new to me and became imbedded in my teaching practice from the start. I think they are essential to student success as it provides a more holistic approach than the simple end of unit assessment of yore.
    I know that I have lots of room for improvement and agree with your thought that assessment for learning is often the most challenging. Your story really resonated with me. I often give “exit slips” or Google Form check-ins to my students, especially in math classes. I try to stress the importance of these and how they are important to my teaching and their learning. One of the ways I do this is to provide feedback within 24 hours. I usually give the class my overall impressions of how we are doing as a whole. I then like to showcase some student work that was really well done and finally I take time to pull a small group of students who are really struggling. That is, I try to offer assessment for learning. It is hard though, to make time for this, to adapt my teaching to suit the needs of the class as we go. It is certainly more work at the time but it pays off doesn’t it?

    Your 4 ways to improve are inspiring and I wish you the best of luck! 🙂

    Laura

    1. Hi Laura,
      Thanks for your feedback. I adore exit slips as they are such an easy way to see who has understood what. I love that you showcase student work that was done well, as I often think kids can be unclear about what “it should look like”, not that we want them all the same, but some kids really benefit from seeing examples (me included).
      Thanks for your reflection.
      Heidi

  2. Hi Heidi,

    You raise great points about the use of Assessment For Learning – or rather, the lack thereof. I think that for a lot of teachers, they’ve spent so much time planning their lessons down to the minute that the prospect of re-teaching a lesson or spending more time on a topic with certain students creates unwanted strain on their timetable. At this point they’re less worried about the students’ learning than they are about their own schedule.

    As a private school teacher, I’ve been through several ministry inspections; inspectors always want to see our plans, but only long-range plans and weeklies (up to the current week). An inspector once told us, “When I see a teacher who’s completed daily plans for an entire semester, I see an inflexible person; you have to be ready to change everything at the drop of a hat.” Perhaps this planning approach might help encourage your colleagues to be more flexible and use their Assessment For data?

    If I can respond to your thought about self- and peer assessment, I do my best to make this a classroom habit early in the semester. I use Google Forms for this purpose, which lets me collect and see the data clearly in a spreadsheet. You’re right about the impact on self-efficacy, which is why I try to get after it as quickly as possible.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Taylor

    1. Hi Taylor,
      I agree with you 100% about planning. I do not collect my teacher’s planning, but they are expected to keep it for inspection purposes. And it is to be kept up to date, reflecting the changes they had to make on daily basis. But I occasionally do come across a teacher who has planned his/her lessons for the entire half-term and have to question how responsive their teaching is to student needs.

      Our students do reflection every five to six weeks for their portfolios. They select a piece of work they’ve done and reflect on what skills they used, or what part of the learner profile they showed, or how it shows improvement from a previous pieces, etc… so we do do it, but we don’t use it as part of our daily learning. I think there is definitely a way we could include this more frequently that would build students’ sense of control over and awareness of their learning.

      So, any suggestions for helping teachers get past the inconvenience of re-planning to accommodate what students need based on assessment data?

  3. Hi Heidi,
    I think you could get away with postponing going over assessment as learning to another day simply because descriptive feedback coming from a teacher isn’t any different than coming from a student to self or to peer. Good, useful feedback is universal. Once your teachers understand what good feedback is, they will then have to teach their students to recognize it, write it and speak it. This will be an ongoing process not dissimilar to the challenges a teacher faces over the course of their career of learning to give better and better feedback Probably a bigger issue (assuming you get buy-in to the whole thing) will be one of logistics really – how do teachers incorporate assessment as learning into the ebb and flow of their lessons and units? I plan on sharing some of my strategies in an upcoming blog. At least you have “teaching teams” established. I am very curious as to just how you and your school went about getting those together and the process of protecting time for them.

  4. Hi Heidi,

    I really enjoyed reading your post and connecting your information to assessment in my classroom. How do you believe formative assessment can (or should) change through the primary, middle, and high school years? Throughout by BEd, assessment for, of and as learning were discussed frequently. I believe I have a thorough understanding of each assessment method and attempt to use them all in my teaching practice. However, when I consider the example given in your post I am wondering if I have missed the mark. Teaching Grade One, I don’t think it is realistic to give my students a post it to write about their understanding or the learning outcome. Most of my formative assessment is through conversation or reviewing practice assignments. From there, I can go back and reteach concepts that seem to be missing. Do you have other formative assessment methods you recommend to teachers in the primary grades? I think your school is very lucky to have someone like you motivated and inspired to improve assessment practices.

    Thanks so much for sharing.

    Chelsey Abrahamson

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