Monday, February 25, 2013

"B+, great work"...or Is There More to It?

Like many schools across North America, especially here in BC, our school is wrestling with assessment and evaluation.  The differences between the two and how each is best used seem to be the general theme of many of our conversations.  As school staffs go ours is fairly well versed and quite open minded about discussing, rethinking and restructuring our practices to make assessment more useful and more meaningful for students.    Our teachers are starting to genuinely understand the differences between assessment and evaluation and, more importantly, are beginning to use more authentic forms of assessment, and evaluating only when necessary.  Given what research has told us over the past three decades about learning and motivation, "Assessment for Learning" and "Assessment as Learning" need to become our primary focus when assessing, with evaluation best left for when it's time for something more summative.

There's some exciting stuff going on here at Steveston-London.  Our science department has been relying primarily on formative assessment based around their 7 "Essential Learning Outcomes" for science 8-10 for some years now.  It's only when the students move onto the more content heavy and more closely prescribed curricula of the senior sciences that our teachers move to more "traditional" grading practices (i.e. actual grading rather than more meaningful feedback).  Our English Department is moving in this direction as is our ESL department (which I've written about before), who are trying to get away from "grades" at the lower levels altogether.  We've also recently received some money from our district to allow interested departments some release time to revise their thinking and implement authentic assessment models of their own design.  Our Social Studies teachers are keen to get started with this, and fingers crossed, they'll have developed an authentic assessment model of their own in time for implementation next school year.

We all have our idealized model of assessment and evaluation in mind, and for most of us it's a long way from where we are now.  There are many more discussions to be had and a lot more thinking that must go into this vital topic.  For instance, one thing I believe that needs to be addressed is the possibility and the flexibility of having completely different models and grading schema to better account for the differences between subject areas.  There's nothing wrong with a 7/10 on a mathematics assignment where a student clearly had 7 correct answers and 3 incorrect, but 7/10 is essentially meaningless feedback for a piece of writing.  All around me people are having truly meaningful discussions and rethinking their own concepts of "assessment" and "feedback".  Let's encourage this and help keep things moving in the right direction.