Week 3 (Part 2) – Assessing Assessment

Education is a journey and a process. I recall the hours spent transferring notes to recipe cards and the late nights in preparation for those ‘big’ exams. Matching, multiple-choice, true and false, short answer, and long answer, were some of the variant questions seen on exams. My parents held a high standard for academics. They would remind me of what they sacrificed in their home countries (the Czech Republic and Colombia) and how education held value and success. I also reminisce on the anxiety brought on by these assessments, expectations, and experiencing relief when it was all over but found myself holding my breath until I received my mark. It seemed to always be about the marks. Comparing where you ranked amongst your peers. What was the class average? What would my parents say? What would my friends say? As an educator, I include this empathy, based on my past experiences, when considering the appropriate assessments for my students. It is as clear as ever that teachers must reflect on a variety of assessment tools and strategies. As I said, education is a journey and I truly appreciate the current norm of formative and summative approaches to showcase understanding.

Our colleagues Christina, Janelle, Laurie, and Ramona covered several assessment technologies relevant in today’s classrooms. I was fixated on the evolution of assessment technologies in education and connected the timeline to the article written by Peggy A. Ertmer and Timothy J. Newby (1993) on Behaviorism, Cognitivism, Constructivism. This article does not only define instructional design but how we design and implement assessments. I believe that each student learns in a unique way and through establishing rapport with the student, the educator finds authentic ways in which assessment can be practiced so that the student may experience success through demonstrating growth. As I refer back to my assessment practices, I see myself closely aligning as a constructivist through my attempts to facilitate learning by creating authentic experiences for my students as they learn in cross-curricular situations so that they may make connections to prior learning and build upon those foundations of learning. I also apply opportunities for peer and self-assessment and reflection to empower my students with ownership and accountability.

I believe that education has evolved into something more flexible and fluid, and so too has assessment and its’ tools and strategies. Assessment technologies such as GoFormative, Plickers, and Flipgrid are fantastic options if used with purpose and provide the potential opportunity for student growth. Dr. Ismail Elmahdi, Dr. Abdulghani Al-Hattami, and Dr. Hala Fawzi’s (2018) article Using Technology for Formative Assessment to Improve Students’ Learning discusses a study completed with emerging educators on the use of Plickers in the classroom. The study also inquired about the rationale for using this assessment technology.  Many of the responses were ‘because it is fun’ or ‘it saves time’ (p. 186). It is clear that some assessment technologies are flashy and fun, but if there isn’t a true foundational purpose for implementation, is there a point in using the technology? Educators must reflect and consider if their assessments are authentic and purposeful. Additionally, we should also be asking who the assessment benefits? Is the assessment fair for all learners? Did I use language that can be understood by all my learners? I am grateful for having had the opportunity to listen to this presentation this summer as I plan to reflect and refine my current assessment practices to ensure that I am being purposeful and authentic in delivery. What are your favourite or go-to assessment tools?

Finally, as I compare my current assessment practices and beliefs to those asked of our school division, some items align and others contradict. As a ‘Connected Educator’ in my school division, it is encouraged to explore and utilize assessment technologies to meet the needs of our students. The encouragement excites me as an educator due to the possibilities, but as I mentioned I still want to be authentic and purposeful in my selections. Division assessments such as the Common Outcomes Math Assessment (COMA) and the On-Demand Writing Assessment (ODWA) deviate from my teaching and assessment philosophies by nature of their construct. I aim at developing and providing my students with flexible options that guide and promote academic growth that get students excited to learn, develop and build upon their skills of knowledge (life-long learners). To close, I found this interesting article that compliments many of the points I’ve attempted to illustrate in this blog. I hope you find it a good read!

14 thoughts on “Week 3 (Part 2) – Assessing Assessment

  1. Great post, Arkin! I appreciate that you brought up the anxiety that students often have around assessment. How can we support students who struggle with assessment anxiety? And how can we help shift the focus from the marks to the learning? I agree that it’s very important to be purposeful when selecting assessment technologies. I want to keep experimenting with Flipgrid and Adobe Spark. Both are great tools for students to explain their ideas and have others respond with feedback. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hey Raquel, thank you for your comments and sharing tools that you are working with. I believe we can alleviate assessment anxiety by being aware of how we address assessment and the words we use. As educators, we must re-phrase or restructure how assessment is delivered (i.e. project, presentation, performance based, etc.). I also believe that we must present academics as a journey. You may not ‘get it’ now, but you will. It is a process! I used Flipgrid quite a bit during remote learning, and loved it! It was a great tool when assigning Arts Education strands and having students showcase and share their work. I’ve only used Adobe Spark a few times, mainly for the annual digital book club I participate in with my class. I hope to use it more to it’s fullest capabilities.

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  2. Arkin, I am interested in the division assessments you use, and your students’ responses to these assessments. I’m unfamiliar with the Common Outcomes Math Assessment (COMA) and the On-Demand Writing Assessment (ODWA), but you mention they “deviate from my teaching and assessment philosophies by nature of their construct.” I would tend to agree with you in that standardized testing is in opposition to a constructivist pedagogy. What have your responses to the test been? Or rather, what are the students’ responses? Do they hate it? Ambivalent? Like it? And, is there a significant difference in how students perform on these assessments as opposed to your regular class assessments?

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    1. Hey Janeen, thanks for your comments and questions! The Common Outcomes Math Assessment focuses on the Numeracy strand of Mathematics and provides questions for each of the Numeracy outcomes. The COMA is typically given to students after each Numeracy strand is completed. The On Demand Writing Assessment is given to students from grades 1 – 9 (?) [it may be past grade 9… I’d have to have one of our high school colleagues confirm this]. Primary students are asked to write a narrative. As students progress through their school years they work on expository writing. Specifically in grade 7, students are asked to write a expository essay and our grade 8 students are to write an persuasive essay. This assessment is done at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year to record growth in student writing. It is also worth noting that there is a timeframe in which the ODWA is to be completed. Students get a period to research and complete a graphic organizer (writing process), they receive time to complete their rough draft with edits and finally their ‘good’ copies. The idea is to identify areas for growth or next-steps to support their writing. I witness a lot of anxiety and try to alleviate it by providing study notes, practice exams and alternative assessment techniques to speak to student learning and growth. In relation to the division assessments, I see scores that deviate from the students potential and what I have seen in the classroom. These assessments almost psych the student out and they don’t perform as well as they did on a regular assessment (regardless of format). I am careful with the language I use and how I present myself (body language) when delivering these assessments. I also give ample opportunities for practice (Math – COMA) so that students feel as prepared as possible.

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  3. You raised a lot of great points in your post. Like Janeen, I too had never heard of the ODWA and the COMA assessments, although I can probably guess that they fit into the standardized testing much like the RAD and DNA we used to have to do in our division. I too think that standardized testing misses the mark, and doesn’t fit into my teaching philosophies (and not to mention I find them absolutely outrageous to correct most of the time). I found that students learned how to take the test, and learned how to get the level they wanted after taking it twice a year, for many years. It wasn’t informative to me, them, or really my teaching practice at all. So I always found it to be another box to check, and not really super helpful.

    I also like how you talked about your experiences growing up around memorization and getting marks back. I too would study using those methods, and then worry the entire time before I got the assessment back. I was also one of those that never shared my mark, and would constantly worry about how I would show my parents my mark. Whether it was a total fail or an amazing mark, I always felt anxious that it wasn’t going to be good enough or that I was letting someone down. There wasn’t a ton of opportunities to self-assess, and even to this day I find myself always self-assessing really low, and never really giving myself credit for the work I’ve done. Totally off-topic, that the two countries your parents are from are very interesting to me. Do you speak both of their native languages then? Or what languages did you speak the most at home?

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    1. Hey Kelly, the Common Outcomes Math Assessment focuses on the numeracy outcomes and is typically delivered at the culmination of a numeracy unit. The On Demand Writing Assessment is given at the beginning and end of the school year. I teach grade 7/8; the grade 7s are asked to write an expository essay and the grade 8s are asked to write a persuasive essay. There are guidelines to this assessment, much like the RAD. I do like the ODWA for the data you collect early in the school year to direct your teaching in writing. This also allows me to group students and individualize instruction where needed. It’s great to see the growth at the end, but the initial assessment can be rough! Our division used to administer the RAD as well, but no longer does. Ha, to address your question about language. Growing up, my Mom would speak Spanish in our home, but I would always respond in English (I understand it all, but have a hard time responding at times in Spanish). Drove my Mother nuts. I speak Spanish more when I visit my family in Colombia since they don’t speak English, but it’s pretty rough and I’m out of practice. I haven’t seen my Mom’s family since 2014. My Dad didn’t speak Czech or German in the house, but he knew fluent Spanish. They would both remind me of the importance of knowing a second language and I wish I would have listened to them. I hope to see where my Father grew up in the Czech Republic. I hear it is beautiful.

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  4. Arkin, another tremendous post! What struck me was your ability to connect to learning theories, to see how they influence your assessment practices and how that has evolved in your teaching and also since you were a student! So cool to see the evolution of thinking in your spaces. Another thing that really struck me was how you constantly reflect on who is benefiting with current assessment practices.

    “Educators must reflect and consider if their assessments are authentic and purposeful Additionally, we should also be asking who the assessment benefits? Is the assessment fair for all learners? Did I use language that can be understood by all my learners?”

    These questions are so sound and powerful as they challenge the dominant discourse and also ensure that a “good” student is all students, not just the ones who thrive in current paradigms and perspectives. I have copy and pasted these questions onto a sticky note on my laptop so that I can refer to them when creating assignments and assessments so I can constantly name my why. Thank you! And I’m sure my students will offer the same gratitude!

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    1. Thank you, Jacquie! Your comments mean a lot to me and I’m flattered that you found my questions to be relevant and useful for your own practice. I strongly believe in meeting students at their level. It is a rewarding challenge to find out what works for each student. Technology definitely assists in finding different pathways to success when used in a purposeful way. I know some students may be resistant to new technologies, so being mindful of how they are presented or creating a supportive environment so they don’t feel singled-out is crucial. From my experiences, as one of your earlier students, I know that you are continually reflecting and implementing best practices into your teaching. Not for you, but for the benefit of your students. I am a product of that. Thank you!

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  5. Thank you for the thought-provoking post-Arkin, it was a great read. You bring up an interesting point that I have been mulling over in my head about the uniqueness of each learner. Really as educators, it’s our job to figure out how they learn, cater to it, send them on their way, and then hope the next teacher reads the cumulative file so that the process doesn’t start all over again. Most of the time it feels like it’s an endless cycle.

    Your piece about flexibility hits home for me, as I will always advocate for students to represent their knowledge however they make sense of the world. I struggle, sometimes with the authentic implementation of summative assessment. Do you ever find that you really don’t need a summative assessment for outcome-based reporting? I ask because there has never been an outcome where I didn’t know what a student’s grade would be before I had them submit their summative work – I do so much formative that it would be pretty impossible for them to fly under the radar. Recently I have attempted to evolve my summative assignments into projects that transfer learning instead of assessments of learning.

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    1. Hey Daniel, thank you for your comments! I completely agree with you when you say that it is our job to find out what works best for our students. That’s the fun challenge of the job. I believe strongly in taking the time at the beginning of the year to build rapport and relationship before ‘cracking into a textbook’. It is important to me to bring in students interests to build authenticity and show that I am listening and I am here to support. I’ve mentioned that Education is a journey, and yes, I too use a lot of formative assessment during the journey. Summative assessments are never a surprise due to the amount of formative assessment completed (i.e. conferencing, self-assessment/reflection, peer assessment/reflection, etc.). If there are surprises, they are ‘red-flagged’ and I conference with the student to see what happened and make a plan moving forward. This builds accountability and ownership. I really like your comment on focusing on projects that transfer learning. I hope to continue to build on cross-curricular learning.

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  6. Great post Arkin! I especially connected to the point you brought up about “assessment technologies being flashy and fun but if there isn’t a true foundational purpose for implementation, is there a point in using the technology?” In researching for our presentation I found it very interesting to see how many of the tools were marketed. It was not uncommon to come across “game like features” or “reduced workload for teachers”. It really drove home the need for teachers to be critical of their choices so that they are choosing technologies that will ensure assessment is serving the purpose it is intended for.

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    1. Hey Laurie, I completely agree with you on being critical of our choices and selections of assessment technologies. We must have purpose and a rationale that supports student learning. Our group shared Blooket as a summary of presentation. Blooket has many modes to engage students, but I those game-like features can certainly be distracting and take away from the proposed learning. Thanks for your comments, Laurie!

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  7. Thanks for sharing. I can relate to the memorization that you recall from your education. I did the ODWA with my grade 9 students for seven or eight years. We would do a “practice” one during the first semester typically and use it as a learning experience, and then they’d do it “for real” in the second semester. Though I didn’t spend a ton of time outside of the practice exam instructing specifically for the exam, I found that time I spent prepping students for that assessment could be better spent doing something more meaningful and authentic.

    I liked this from page 87 of the article that you posted:

    “Whereas assessment in terms of grades or performance results is of some interest, it is also important
    to develop and examine lifelong learners’ needs to transcend their interest in knowledge acquisition and competence building and to additionally assess their personal commitment to finding connections of meaning in an uncertain world to anchor one’s sense of belonging and provide certainty on an on-going, sustainable basis.”

    Sustainability, making those connections, and pushing yourself as in individual (while still enjoying communal learning experiences) is where I hope we’re headed in the years to come. I’ve had conversations with students and what motivates them. How motivated would you be if a class was pass/fail? Would you be at motivated or more motivated if we weren’t so concerned about the numbers assigned to our academic progress? It was interesting to hear some of the opinions. Somewhat surprisingly, some of the stronger students argued fiercely for more of a pass/fail system, though there were various pros and cons on both sides.

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    1. Hey, Mike! Thanks for your comments and sharing. Like you, I don’t spend a lot of time on the preparation of the initial ODWA assessment. I let the results speak for themselves and design instruction accordingly. Throughout the school year, I find that I need to be conscious of the end of the year ODWA and ensure my students have opportunities to practice their writing in the different domains that are assessed. I am also surprised with the results of your question to your students. I wonder what a pass/fail system would look like? Would it be similar to what we see now? I feel outcome based reporting still provides an element of comparison amongst peers. Motivation and wanting to be your very best isn’t a bad thing, but ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity to display their best is key!

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