Classroom assessment is changing!

November 23, 2010

Sherry Bennett, Executive Director, Alberta Assessment ­Consortium

Not long ago, the word assessment conjured up thoughts of formal tests, anxious study, feelings of anticipation and worry—wondering if you studied the right things, relief if you received an acceptable mark or dismay if the result was not to your liking.

New research into how the brain works and how students learn best has helped educators rethink the purpose of classroom assessment and how to make it more effective. Educators today know that assessment is a process of gathering ­evidence of student learning. It is not limited to a single event; rather, it consists of a series of events that take place over time. Although assessment may include formal tests, it more often involves different ways of obtaining feedback on work in progress. Assessment today is less focused on marks and more focused on learning. It involves students at all points along the way.

You may have already noticed some different terminology in the kind of assessments your child brings home. Teachers might use such terms as assessment for learning, assessment as learning, formative assessment and peer feedback to describe the assessment processes at your child’s school.

Teachers begin the process of assessment by carefully planning their units, lessons and assessment tasks to ensure they can gather evidence of what matters most in the curriculum. Teachers help students know what the learning ­target is by clearly stating the expectations (criteria) for the work. Rubrics (scoring guides) are often provided for assignments to help students know what standard of performance is required. Samples of student work from previous years may be used to help ­students see more clearly what is expected.

Students don’t have to wait until they receive their assignment back from their teacher to know whether or not they have met the learning goal. Teachers provide feedback and coaching to students, and peers help each other improve work in progress. Students learn how to reflect on their work and make adjustments to improve the quality.

Assessment should provide teachers, students and parents with information about how well the student is progressing towards meeting the expectations of the curriculum. Behavioural concerns such as handing work in late can be dealt with through other strategies in partnership with parents, rather than by penalizing the student with a low grade. In this way, student grades are a more accurate reflection of what the student has already learned and still needs to learn. 

Parents can strengthen the partnership between home and school by taking time to explore the assessment strategies used at their child’s school. Ask your child about upcoming assignments. Look at the rubric with your child when he or she begins work on the assignment. Stay in close communication with your child’s teacher if either you or your child is unsure about the criteria. Though it’s always exciting to celebrate good grades, be sure that your conversations focus on the learning that has taken place. Remember that a report card is only one way your child’s teacher shares information with you.

New directions in ­classroom assessment can help students become ­engaged in their learning and be more confident as they approach new learning tasks, a definite move in the right direction!