Ever since Growing Success (2010) was released in Ontario, our education system has been undergoing profound shifts in assessment and evaluation, not all of which are welcome by educators. Teachers continue to struggle with the adoption of the fundamental principles of the document which "ensure[s] that assessment, evaluation, and reporting are valid and reliable, and that they lead to the improvement of learning for all students" (Growing Success, 6). To do so, teachers should "use practices and procedures that are fair, transparent, and equitable for all students" (Growing Success, 6).
One of the areas that continues to challenge our staff are policies about late and missing assignments. I find that this particularly disadvantages students with special needs (particularly communication based learning disabilities). Our board guidelines clearly indicate that all strategies and interventions are to encourage the completion of the work and support the fair assessment of student work, but some teachers continue to believe that punitive measures are the most effective way of getting students to complete work.
So, what to do? How can board staff better support the adoption of the fundamental principles of Growing Success, with an explicit focus on SUCCESS FOR ALL?
Assessment for learning (AfL) is the key to unlocking both the potential of ALL our students and our educators. "Assessment for Learning is formative assessment plus the deep involvement of learners in the assessment process. It is a process of both learners and teacher being engaged in seeking and interpreting evidence to figure out where learners are in their learning in relation to what has been taught, where they need to go next in their learning and how best to get there" (Davies et al). To facilitate AfL, clear learning goals (derived from curriculum expectations), success criteria (ideally co-created), and a tight feedback loop are imperative.
A major shift in assessment practices includes administrators acting as "change agents" or instructional leaders. To facilitate change in our schools and systems, leaders need to model the change we want, especially if we want a focus on learning rather than a focus on grading. Our school board has been fortunate to be working with Sandra Herbst of Connect2Learning this year; in preparation of our work, I was able to attend a 3 day institute, "Using Assessment in the Service of Learning". In a recent article, "System leaders using assessment for learning as both the change and the change process: Developing theory from practice," co-authored by Anne Davies, Kathy Busick, Sandra Herbst, and Ann Sherman, the focus on leaders to create change is clear:
- Leaders must take action and move beyond words to deeds.
- Leaders evaluate what they value and move beyond numbers to include triangulated evidence of learning.
- Leaders find ways to collect ongoing information and use frequent feedback loops. (Davies et al)
In our board, we are working to help educators use AfL deliberately and intentionally to support the learning of students. In her article and in her work in our system, Sandra Herbst is helping provide educators with strategies and examples so that our "students have clear learning destinations and are involved in the classroom assessment process" (Davies et al). Moreover, we continue to work on the triangulation of data from multiple sources in order to inform the professional judgement of educators. System level staff and school leaders position themselves as learners (rather than experts), we are using varied sources of data (including student voices & perspectives) and we are modelling the same strategies and protocols in our meetings or to guide decision-making.
In our school board, we strive to meet the needs of all learners and provide success for all students with fair and equitable assessment practices (including limiting late mark deduction), through creative programming (such as co-op recall, credit recovery, alternative education or experiential programs), more creative or innovative approaches to the curriculum (teachers are engaged in curriculum rewriting in PLCs and PD), and a consistent effort to engage our students in monitoring and evaluating their own learning in order to create independent learners.
Davies, A., Busick, K., Herbst, S., & Sherman, A. (2014). "System leaders using assessment for learning as both the change and the change process: Developing theory from practice." Curriculum Journal, 25(4), 567-592. doi:10.1080/09585176.2014.964276.
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing Success. Queen's Printer for Ontario.