New Tasks and Old Tools

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by State Library of Victoria Collections
I have been thinking about this for the better part of a week now, and today I finally feel ready to share.

The school I work in has been named as one of the most innovative schools in Canada and does a lot of great work in the areas of personalized learning, differentiated instruction, and inquiry. I am on twitter all the time learning and sharing with other educators from the province of Alberta who are doing amazing things in these areas as well. The push is on from our government to focus on success for all students and collaborative learning. They use words like engagement, transformation and vision. They speak to the idea of 21st century learning and the need to provide our students with the skills necessary for their futures.

It’s great to see this kind of progress, and the way educators are out there moving the system forward, one classroom, school or division at a time. So why then are we using old tools to assess the new ways we educate?

In planning with my Gr. 8 team we discussed a number of ways we could change our assessment, including doing away with final exams and replacing them with final learning experiences, where students could show us the process skills they have developed and meet the competencies that their curriculum requires. Stations, learning portfolios, learning challenges, the list of alternatives can be numerous. Then the point was brought up that we had a responsibility to ensure that our Gr. 8 students were ready for the Provincial Achievement Test in Gr. 9, and that if we don’t test them, they won’t be ready.

This was a valid point, as our Gr. 9 students DO have to write Provincial Achievement tests, but it doesn’t make it right. In fact, this is so wrong. Our government wants us to move forward, but then wants to assess our students, and our schools using an old assessment tool. How can this possibly be ok?

What are the characteristics 21st century learning requires of our students?

Collaboration and Leadership: There is nothing collaborative about a pencil and paper assessment, in fact, this takes away from the message that this is important. Whether intended or not, the test is a competitive measuring device for schools and school jurisdictions province wide. While we as educators still share, and aren’t worried about helping others succeed, it is about the message the government is sending by having these assessments.

Creativity and Innovation: How are these tests in any way a measure of innovation? These tests are the assessment for regurgitated memorization, which is not part of innovation. And what about so called “Innovative Schools”? If a school does what is right, and ventures away from the this type of learning, they may create critical-thinking students, they may foster creativity and they may inspire a collaborative work environment and STILL may not do well on this test. Who cares!? We know what is right, but with these assessments, we may have that same school facing criticism from their division, the media or from the public because of the inane value we give these tests.

Lifelong Learning: Let’s be honest, these tests are about cramming until the day of the test and nothing more. This does not inspire lifelong learning and it does not motivate teachers to support the idea with their students. Its about one year learning and that is all.

This is what our government has developed and provided us as a model for educating 21st century learners:

I wonder how can this image be consistent with what we are doing now? I don’t see where these tests fit into this graphic.

Yesterday on twitter I read a tweet by Joe Bower, a man who always keeps me on my toes because of the way he challenges our current practices, that said this:


“Differentiated instruction can not be authentic without differentiated assessment”


This got me thinking that the same kind of statement can be made for 21st Century Learning:


21st Century education can not be realized without 21st Century assessment


Now since I am not the type of person to complain and not provide ideas for a solution, here’s mine. Let’s take those dedicated and bright minds that go in every year to create these Achievement Tests and let’s instead have them create learning experiences/opportunities/challenges for our kids. Make them week long activities that incorporate collaboration and critical thinking, that require communication amongst their teams and creative/innovative ideas to complete. Hopefully these tasks can touch on all core curricula while also addressing ideas of social responsibility and ethical citizenship. These are the kind of things we are asking teachers to aspire to every day in their classrooms, so why not aspire to this goal in our assessment as well.

I am not going to take a horse and carriage in the Indy 500 just like I am not going to feel comfortable assessing my students with a dated exam. I want to see the same leaders who are looking for 21st century educating from our teachers also provide 21st century assessments, if they are providing any at all.

One thought on “New Tasks and Old Tools

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