Assessment practices, whether traditional or cutting edge, have a huge impact on both learning, retention and engagement of students within any classroom. By varying the type and frequency of assessments and starting to view formative assessments as opportunities to help guide the instruction and learning, teachers and students can construct their own pathways, together, to content and curricular understanding. The issue, however, is that at the secondary level the mantra that content is king trumps most opportunities for teachers to explore assessment practices beyond the teach and test model. Time is the restraint: there are only so many days in the school year and class time can be eaten away with school assemblies and other opportunities to develop and celebrate school culture (these activities, however, are so important to improve school culture). These lost days of instruction can cause anxiety in teachers that feel that they cannot cover the curriculum and fall back to more traditional assessment practices that are ‘quick and easy’.
Herein lies the problem: learning is not about content; and content is not king, especially when it comes to engaging students in their learning. In a system where a standardised test (in our case, the provincial exams) occur at the end of the course, it might seem that learning can be broken into discrete partitions of knowledge that can be tested through multiple choice responses. Where else but in a Science or Math classroom would the core values of learning be broken into Google-able facts with not much synthesis problem solving? (Please respond using the a,b,c, or d choices below….)
If time is a factor in teachers’ ability to bring formative assessment techniques into their classroom, then we should push hard against the increasing number of learning outcomes. We should embrace curricular design that celebrates the deeper understanding of core concepts and moves away from the surface level understanding of rote memorisation. There are some promising lights coming from the new BCEdPlan around assessment and curricular design. By highlighting the need to move towards a more global outlook around learning, using formative assessment at the core of the courses, teachers are given the freedom to explore within their own professional autonomy without fear of ‘missing out on the curriculum’.
As changes are coming to the BC Education system, accountability within that system must also change. As part of the Great Schools Project, I have been fortunate to be part of some great conversations with some amazing people dedicated to improving our education system. I highly recommend that you check out the Great Schools Project (now just Great Schools) and the conversation arising around assessment.