Assessment Beyond the Test: How Assessment Shapes our Learners
If you were in high school during the era of Top Gun and Bon Jovi, you probably experienced assessment at school as mainly multiple-choice tests and exams; sitting in silence, separate from your peers, in meticulous rows, with no access to information, food, or water for two to three hours. At that time, schools were focused on preparing students for process and procedure-based careers. The careers and future we are preparing students for now are different than the 1980’s, there is a greater need now for innovation, creativity, collaboration, and global citizenship.
“A good portion of the teaching done in schools centers on delivering facts and information to build concepts that explain a body of knowledge”… “Students may hold on to this information in working memory just long enough to take a test, after which it readily decays and is lost.” How the Brain Learns, David Sousa (2011)
While exams remain in most schools and provinces, they are now only one component of what might best be thought of as an assessment toolbox. As a school that prides itself on academic rigour and university preparedness, WIC students experience a broad range of assessment practices that are designed to help them succeed in life, at school, at university, and beyond.
“Assessment is much more than collecting achievement data; it shapes the dispositions of our learners and influences their responsiveness going forward”. Essential Assessment, Erkens, Schimmer, & Vagle (2017)
Our vision is to teach students to be “curious, creative, innovative, and able to impact the world.” To achieve this, our assessment methods and practices need to align with our vision. What might that look like? Here’s what students say about assessment; see if you can match the quotes to the assessment type and consider which might best align with our vision for WIC students. Hint: You’re looking for projects, tests, seminars, and multiple choice.
Through a portfolio and interview format of assessment, Ms. Wright discovers not only whether her students have grasped the ‘big ideas’ of English Language Arts 10, but also their dispositions and understanding of themselves as learners. Please watch these students talk about risk, growth, independence, confidence, and motivation:
Mr. Parkinson, Junior science and Senior High computer science teacher notes, “In a quiz or a test, students are fixated on getting the right answer; for many students, this can be debilitating, and they panic, they forget that they do actually know this stuff. When they get an opportunity to create a model of what they know, they are much more comfortable, and they go beyond the “right” answer to show other possibilities”. Projects and open-ended questions are well-suited to facilitating curiosity and creativity. An example of this is evident in this open-ended assessment prompt that Mr. Parkinson gave his grade 8 students: “Show me you know mechanical advantage”. Their model might be an actual 3D structure, a virtual structure in Minecraft, or a virtual roller coaster such as the one created by a student in the video here.
“It really helps to work on difficult problems with other people…hanging around with people who have good ideas can boost good ideas of your own.” Learning How to Learn, Oakley and Sejnowski (2018)
This photo shows students in Mrs. Zajdlik’s class working collaboratively to solve problems in chemistry by playing a game. The students described this activity as a fun, memorable way to prepare for the upcoming unit quiz the following day. Not evident in the photo is the "Mole Song" playing in the background! The combination of the mole board game, music, and working with peers to solve complex problems helped to move their knowledge and understanding from working memory into long-term memory.
Short Story Analysis Assignments by Amreet (left) and Sumr (right), Grade 9
It’s commonly thought that an image can speak louder than words, and did you know that imagery can enhance learning and increase retention? Ms. Law, in an ELA 9 class assessment, asked her students to demonstrate their analysis of a short story through the creation of a visual collage. As students presented their collages to the class, they demonstrated their understanding verbally as well as through images; additionally, this format lent itself well to questioning and discussion among students, which led to deeper, critical thinking about the relationship between choice of images and the text itself.
In part two of this post on assessment, I’ll talk about the role of seminars, journaling, podcasts, and escape rooms. Watch this space!
About the Author
Director of Learning and Innovation