Assessment Is Central to Learning
by Greg Gerber, SCSBC Director of Learning ◊
Among educators, there is very little argument about whether or not engaging in assessment is a required dimension in the role of teachers. There is, however, much variability in individuals’ understandings and living out of how assessment is practiced in the classroom, and regarding its role in the learning process. The BC Ed Plan and BC’s newly released interim reporting policy have re-ignited the assessment conversation and have captured the attention of most educators. Current dialogue is captivated by BC’s stipulation that all students1 are to perform self-assessments on the core competencies, self-assessments which are also to be included in final summative reports; this represents a significant shift or expansion in thinking. What are the implications, and how might we begin to engage all staff in deep consideration around how assessment practices can further facilitate student learning?
Perhaps the starting point is more obvious than we think and begins simply by engaging teachers with the question, “What is the purpose of assessment?” At first glance, the answer seems obvious, and the question might almost be construed as insulting to a professionally trained faculty. However, articulated answers and how those answers are framed are very telling. For some, assessment centres around summating how a student has done (at the end of a task or journey); others will speak about assessment’s role in determining how one is doing (during a task or learning journey), and many will note that assessment requires both elements. What is interesting though is that helping a student become a better assessor of themselves is a far less commonly stated purpose of assessment.
In 1989, Costa worked to articulate the need for reframing assessment and asserted that “we must constantly remind ourselves that the ultimate purpose of evaluation is to enable students to evaluate themselves.”2 Yet over the past two and a half decades, while the language we use to discuss assessment has changed somewhat, practice has been less impacted. Educators agree that the goals of assessment hinge on facilitation and improvement of student learning, yet classroom practice is often dominated by methodologies that serve to measure students against some standard rather than serving to discover the change and progress in a student’s learning journey.
To illustrate this, consider Figure 1 which graphically represents the distribution of how teachers have stereotypically engaged with assessment practices, and what we might consider the newly proposed distribution of assessment methodology and purpose. In current assessment literature, a common way to think about methods and practice are summarized as assessment As learning, For learning, and Of learning. Loosely defined, assessment as learning pertains to student engaged self, peer, or group evaluation which is intended to inform the student while they are engaged in a process, allowing constructive feedback iterations to inform the process and product. Abbreviated, assessment as learning informs a student’s current practice and kindles immediate improvement. Assessment for learning refers to practices typically employed by a teacher which serve to gauge student understanding during a learning journey (or unit, etc.) so that the teacher might use this information to inform their choice of pedagogical engagements and planning. Assessment for learning, then, informs teacher practice as responsive to the current needs of students. Assessment of learning is often defined as a final evaluation intended to measure how far a student has come, or what level of understanding they have achieved along some spectrum.
While the delineation of assessment into the categories of as, for, and of learning are helpful in facilitating comprehension of the various aspects or elements of assessment, their definitions have done little to transfer the promise of the theoretical framework into practice within classrooms. Educators readily acknowledge the need for engaging in more assessment as and for learning and placing less onus on assessment of learning, but I contend that the language framework of as, for, and of do not provide enough action-driven impetus. In other words, how can we better help teaching staff to translate the three components of assessment into understandings of concrete application and practice such that student learning is positively affected?
Perhaps we might reconceive of the lesser understood components – assessment as and for learning – in terms of who is primarily engaged in their practices. Strategies for assessment as learning are those that primarily involve learner processing. Student engagement and reflection are the most critical elements in this regard, and therefore assessment as learning might be better expressed as Student-Enacted assessment. This naming makes overtly clear the active role students themselves play in engaging in a practice of assessment. Students play a role in peer feedback, self-assessment, and in setting personal development goals to which they will work toward. While the naming convention makes clear that the learner holds the pivotal role in student-enacted learning, teacher involvement as a facilitator or coach and as a constructor of meaningful time for engaging student-enacted assessment opportunities cannot be understated.
Assessment for learning might be reframed as Teacher-Enacted assessment where the teacher evaluates current student comprehension and curricular competency during a learning journey. The intention of Teacher-Enacted assessment aims toward the identification of learning gaps present within the student group then applying that knowledge of where learning is breaking down to inform them in planning learning activities which address the learning gaps, on a class level, individual needs level, or both.
If we think and speak about assessment in terms of Student-enacted (teacher facilitated), and Teacher-enacted, and summative while considering the proposed distribution or frequency of utilization, teachers are more likely able to gauge their assessment practice choices. Simply, teachers might ask or reflect on:
- How much of the assessment in my class is Student-Enacted?
- How much of the assessment in my class is Teacher-Enacted and used to inform pedagogical choices?
- How much of the assessment in my class is Summative?
- What evidence do I have that supports engagement in each of these areas?
- And finally, is my assessment practice distribution congruent with student-centred assessment practice?
1 Note: As of September 2016 this reporting stipulation applies only directly to schools which fall under the School Act, and does not yet apply to those under the Independent School Act. Down the road, and following further consultation, the government may make the reporting policy applicable to independent schools as well. But for now, it applies only to public schools.
2 Costa, A. L. (1989): “Reassessing assessment,” Educational leadership 46-7, p. 2.
Earl, L. M.; Katz, M. S. (2006) Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind: Assessment for Learning, Assessment as Learning, Assessment of Learning, Western and Northern Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Education, Retrieved from https://www.wncp.ca/media/40539/rethink.pdf
BC Ministry of Education (1994) Assessment handbook series: Student self-assessment, Curriculum Development Branch, Retrieved from https://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/classroom_assessment/self_assess.pdf