My Assessment Journey

Assessment. The word used to make me cringe. During university, I had to of course take an assessment class. I dreaded it, and I wondered why I needed this class, I was becoming a teacher to connect with kids and change their lives, not create rubrics and figure out how to mark. When I started teaching and we had PD sessions on assessment, or I saw conference posters for assessment, I thought they were for the nerdy teachers who knew/cared nothing about kids. I never considered assessment as a critical part of the education process, because I thought connecting with kids had nothing to do with books (curriculum), marks (assessment) or computers (technology). Well, as is often the case, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Our division is immersed in the movement towards outcome based reporting and authentic assessment. It is great, I am on board and I am excited, but this post isn’t about that.  Instead it is about the journey, and the amazing people who helped me see just how much of an impact assessment can have on connecting with our students.

Last school year, the assistant principal at my school (@imminentshift), who was playing  and continues to play a big role in our division’s assessment move, started talking to me about authentic assessment. He explained to me that we have students who label themselves as a percentage because they assume the marks they get dictate their educational worth. He talked to me about how the process of averaging student marks to come out with a final letter grade is a flawed way of reporting student progress. Below is a quick summary of the great example of the three students packing parachutes, all who have a 70% average, and who would you want packing your chute?

Student 1 – 90-40 -100-50-90-50

Student 2 – 90-100-100-60-40-30

Student 3 – 40-40-50-90-100-100

You get the idea. He helped me see that what we have been doing has been providing feedback that was in no way an accurate portrayal of what our students are able to do. Over the course of the year, he helped our staff start the process of improving the way we teach, the way we assess and the way we provide feedback on student progress. I started to see how we could do a better job, but I didn’t yet see how this could impact our school and our division beyond the classroom.

This past weekend I attended the Alberta Assessment Consortium conference. I listened to speakers like Allison Zmuda (@compclass) talk about how we need to “Incentivize failure” and make a “Growth Mentality” be part of our classroom. It was exciting to hear how making changes in our teaching practice was actually the key to implementing change in our assessment. All of the sudden I started to find myself agreeing with what Allison had to say, and I felt the conversion happening.

My conversion to a full fledged assessment believer occurred during Dale Skoreyko’s presentation “Assessment Leadership – Leading the Way to Assessment Literacy”. It wasn’t as if Dale presented some ground breaking theory or new design for reporting, he simply talked about the importance of the work his teachers were doing and how much he believed in it. He talked about how a parent might come in to argue that his child deserved a better mark, say a 72 instead of a 67, and how he would ask the parent that if he were to give the student 72, would he suddenly know more? Would that child be able to DO more? He talked about how he simply told parents that they were there to talk about the child and the child’s learning, and percentages or raw data had very little to do with that. He talked about how his schools, after implementing some new assessment policies, saw discipline problems and missing/late work become non-issues and how students were more engaged and more excited to be there. He has gone through changing the assessment process in multiple schools in the city of Edmonton, with greatly different socio-economic populations, and yet all of his schools saw this improvement after it was underway. As I listened I laughed, I shared at my table, and more importantly, I got excited. I really started to feel like this might be the way to change so many things for the better within the hallways of my school. School culture, student achievement, staff morale, parent support, and overall building energy, I really imagined all of these things being affected in amazing ways. It was, as I posted on twitter, one of the best PD sessions I had ever attended, and one that had a profound effect on my opinion of assessment.

Just how much of an effect did it have on me? Well, as I gushed to my wife, my family and anyone that would listen I realized I had turned into one of those “nerdy educators” who was excited about assessment. I was wrong about them, and now I am quite happy to be among them.


4 thoughts on “My Assessment Journey

  1. Sometimes I feel like I’m not being supportive when my teachers ask me about test scores or report cards or this and that in regards to grading, because honestly, I’d like to throw it all out the window. It sounds like you had a tremendous learning experience with a lot of take-aways. I know I’m trying to encourage my teachers to shift their thinking in this area, but at the end of the quarter, report cards are due. It’s a little easier to handle in elementary school, since these grades go nowhere (let’s be honest), but there is nothing more frustrating to me than seeing Ds and Fs on a small child’s report card. Who has failed in that situation? Us, not them.

  2. As an educator I often contemplate the way a grade is indicative of achievement. You asked a specific question in your past that really triggered some thinking in my mind. You wrote “Would that child be able to DO more?”. I like to feel that I prepare students for life beyond the classroom, and test scores certainly do little to demonstrate that at times. Reading your post encouraged me to see beyond the numbers, and caused me to rethink the ways I convey achievement to parents. I found this extremely relevant as I prepare for Parent-Teacher Conferences next week. I am curious what the “new assessment policies” were that Dale implemented in his schools. Did he share some of those with you? If so, could you pass them along. Thanks for a great post.

  3. Excellent post. I really think that Rick Stiggins said it all when he said “It is not whether students hit the target today, it’s whether they come back to try and hit it again tomorrow.”. I hope that one day the function of assessment is much more sloped toward informing our practice as educators rather than the traditional “your son/daughter is a 72” that grades often translate to today.

  4. When I began working with my teachers on standards-based assessment, they started to see how difficult it was to determine solid criteria to differentiate the standards of “excellent”, “acceptable”, “minimal” and “not yet”. Four shades of grey were hard enough, never mind the 100 shades we thought we were using with precision when grading with percentages.

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