Assessment and Evaluation
From curriculum we move into the area of assessment and evaluation. It's not hard to find the connections between curriculum and assessment/evaluation. In fact, I hope that the connections with class sizes are evident as well. In the class sizes section we discussed how to reduce the daunting task of writing a large number of report cards, but we didn't talk about what or how to assess. In the curriculum section we discussed how to navigate curriculum expectations and use the front matter of curriculum documents to your advantage. In this section we will look at how to assess and evaluate children with ease and how to navigate standardized assessments. Before we can dive into this, let's look at why assessment and evaluation are important?
If we want to teach, learn, acquire knowledge, share ideas, improve, and basically maintain a growth mindset, we must know who we already are and then discover if we have become someone different. This has scientific method written all over doesn’t it? So we assess to determine who we are, and evaluate to determine who we’ve become. Without assessment and evaluation we could not improve, or at least we wouldn't know if we had. I want to point you to a picture you've already seen on this site.
When we look at this image through the lens of assessment and evaluation, we see with clarity, how important knowing where we have come from is in determining where we are headed. That is why we assess. In fact, it is human nature to assess. I'd almost call it the 6th sense. Do you remember the children that were swinging on the branches of the tree on the risky play page? They were assessing their environment and their ability simultaneously in order to map their next action. We are constantly assessing the world around us. Right now, you are trying to determine if you agree with this statement and in doing so, you have found out that it's impossible not to. But assessment in the classroom can be daunting. We are supposed to do it properly and we are given tools that we are encouraged and sometimes told to use.
Sonia Blandford and Catherin Knowles, in their article 'Assessment for learning: a model for the development of a child’s self-competence in the early years of education,' describe assessment as “children and practitioners working together to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there” (p487). I love how equitable this model is. It includes the learner and the practitioner and it also makes learning infinite. It doesn't tell you how you must do it. It simply lets you know what the outcome should be; the next steps. The full day kindergarten curriculum of Ontario agrees with this model of assessment. The Growing Success: Kindergarten Addendum may not highlight the uniqueness of each child, but the front matter of the curriculum certainly does. Throughout the assessment and learning section (1.4) of the program the child is highlighted as an individual. On page 44 of the hard copy document it states "young children will demonstrate their learning in many different ways." Beyond the written documents, you would be hard pressed to find a public school board that doesn't advocate equity, individualism or uniqueness. The Toronto district school board states "creating equitable learning environments for everyone" as one of their board wide goals. Vancouver's school board states "our goal is to serve the needs and tap the potential of each of our students so that they may achieve their unique potential." In the English Montreal School Board, they list recognizing and valuing the diversity of its community as part of their mission statement. And in the board I currently work for, our motto is "We build each student's tomorrow, everyday," honouring the individuality of each student. When Blandford and Knowles write "where they need to go" they don't suggest that this need is dictated by the system. This need is determined by all the stakeholders. This need honours the voice of the child, just as current and updated early childhood curricula around the world honours individuality and child voice. We have all been given permission to assess and evaluate our children in a unique and individualized manner. When we recognize we have this freedom, assessment and evaluation becomes far more manageable.
But what about the standardized assessments? Our class adheres to the school, board, and province wide standardized testing policies. It’s not just because we have to, it’s because it’s important. The Diagnostic Reading Assessment (DRA) for the senior kindergarten (SK) kids is often an issue of contention amongst the educators in my school. This program is scripted to ensure each child receives the same direction and therefore can be compared to one another. The SK kids are also subjected to phonological awareness screening (PAS) in which they demonstrate their knowledge of beginning and ending sounds, rhyming, and blending sounds. This is done at the beginning of the year and the end of the year so it does map improvement. However, in the end, there is a certain level of expected achievement. Further to these standardized assessment tools, two and a half times a year, we sit down and write report cards; an official document comparing each child to the curriculum and providing steps to help them achieve curriculum expectations in the future. In all of these assessments the children are compared to each other in some way shape or form. I know what you’re thinking, ‘comparing students to students is like comparing apples to oranges.’ If you’re thinking this, you align with me, but let’s take this back to how our class operates. Our assessment relies on communication. We work very hard to make sure the platforms for clear and open conversation exists between the students, educators, parents, and all stakeholders. But what happens when communication falters or just isn’t possible? For instance, when a child moves to a different school. We try our hardest to touch base with the receiving teacher, but in all honesty, the success rate is less than 25%. So these standardized assessments travel with the student in the Ontario Student Record (OSR). Other educators need information and these are adequate substitutes for face to face, phone to phone or email to email correspondence. From a classroom teacher's perspective, standardized testing is simply put, a bridge of communication when more reliable, more time consuming methods are not available.
So how do we blend these two types of assessment, equitable and standardized? Is it possible to stick to your guns while employing the strategies implemented by those that employ you? Of course it is! We can use standardized tests to compare apples to apples. A wonderful thing about DRA is that it allows students, parents and educators to map and graph reading levels over time. When a child shows digression, perhaps a knew route needs to mapped out with the stakeholders. When a child shows improvement, we (all the stakeholders) know the route is sturdy. The key, is knowing yourself, your students, your parents, your community... all the stakeholders. From a child perspective, standardized assessments are not created to make students, parents or teachers worry or feel bad about low test scores but rather to make us all aware of progression. When we know where our students are, we can ask them where they’d like to go and work as a “team of everyone” to make it happen. Standardized tests are not there to hinder education and with the right perspective, they don’t.