Assessment is something that we expect in all classrooms. Students expect that teachers will test their knowledge and skills. Parents expect that they will receive reports on their child’s achievements and progress in mathematics, reading, writing, physical education, social studies, etc. Parents also expect that they will receive a note about their child’s attitude and work habits. Students and parents assume that teachers make decisions to question, quiz, and test students using a specific set of criteria that matches the purpose of the assessment to the tools and approaches.
Is this the case? Maybe not!
In classrooms where teachers have a textbook as a curriculum and assign blame to students who do not perform, you have a recipe for a lot of kids getting lost every year. This scenario does not accept the value of education for all – and it does exist in some disciplines and schools.
However, in classrooms where teachers have a set of outcomes-based curriculum standards and where teachers believe that all the students in the classroom can learn and reach these standards – I submit you have an excellent starting point for high quality teaching and learning. This is the kind of classroom where you will witness Assessment for learning.
Assessment for learning is a seamless part of teaching. Assessment for learning is constructed to be part of a feedback loop for learning where teachers strategically assess students so that they – the teachers – can quickly determine the knowledge and skill level of the students and reformat instruction accordingly. This is a critical teaching skill that makes the difference between a teacher and someone who simply delivers curriculum to a group of students.
Dr. Lorna Earl, an international assessment expert, explains that this is not the historical use of assessment in teaching. When assessment for learning is being promoted in schools, it can be uncomfortable for teachers. Teachers who are starting to learn, understand, and use assessment for learning in their work will need some support shifting their practices. Teachers who adopt assessment for leaning need to balance the purposes of classroom assessment. A balance between using assessment results to evaluate student achievement as expected by parents and principals – and – using assessment results to create learning opportunities for kids who are struggling to meet the learning objectives of a lesson.
Assessment for learning is explained, contextualized and illustrated with examples in Rethinking Classroom Assessment with Purpose in Mind, a publication by the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol. When we developed and wrote this document, we made sure it was by teachers and educational experts for working teachers. It takes the theory and makes it practical for real applications in the classroom.