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 Learning – Formative 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:
- How to provide effective feedback
- 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?