This month’s PLC discussion topic/focus is based on Sharon Friesen’s ‘What did you do in school today?’ (2009). Principle 3 of this document is: assessment practices improve student learning and guide teaching.
The traditional way to think of assessment is simply gathering information at the end of the teaching and learning process in order to rank students’ achievement against a standard. The Alberta diploma exams are a typical example of this type of summative assessment. We’ve come to refer to this as assessment OF learning.
While final exams and standardized tests are still a crucial piece in the assessment process, the shift has been from using assessment results simply to come up with an overall grade, to being able to use the results to inform instruction. This is what we refer to as assessment FOR learning.
Assessment for learning is embedded in instruction and takes place throughout the course of learning. It is a critical piece of differentiation because it helps us to adjust our instruction based upon the needs of the students. It improves student learning because it gives them valuable feedback on their own learning. It’s what we all do on a daily basis in the form of checks for understanding, observations of student engagement, questioning, exit slips etc. When we use the information gathered to alter strategy during a lesson or unit, it is an example of assessment for learning in action.
The next step in using assessments to improve student learning is the idea of assessment AS learning. This is a process where students are aware of their own learning objectives and take responsibility for meeting those objectives. It is a task or activity that allows students the opportunity to use the assessment results to further their learning. Teacher feedback on marked assignments, self and peer assessments, are all things that allow students to reflect on their own learning and identify areas of strength and need. It gives them the opportunity to set goals and advocate for their own learning.
I think Joe Siedlecki, a Program and Policy Officer for US Education, summed it up nicely when he said: “Only when we stop doing assessment to students or for students and do assessments with students will we truly be building their intellectual independence and ability to think critically.”