My thoughts on “Growing Success” Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario Schools

Confession time.

I am a nerd. I love talking about assessment and evaluation. I love reading about it, debating about it, writing about it, thinking about it, planning for it, and sometimes doing an interpretive dance about it. My favourite A and E guru is Damian Cooper who I had the pleasure of meeting last year thanks to my good friend Heather Jakobi. I like him because while his philosophy is grounded in all the best research into good assessment and evaluation practices, he is practical enough to recognize the challenges and limitations that teachers and administrators face in their day to day lives.

My basic assessment and evaluation philosophy is this:

  • The primary role of assessment is to promote student learning
  • Assessment should inform and drive instruction
  • You need to begin with an idea of what students must know and determine what sufficient evidence of this achievement will look like.
  • There are many different ways to demonstrate learning and students need to be exposed to a variety of assessment tasks and when possible and appropriate, be given choice.
  • Students need to develop an awareness of how they learn best and should learn how to effectively self-assess.
  • Students should have multiple opportunities to demonstrate they can meet expectations
  • We should not use academic penalties (deducting marks) for behavioural/learning skill issues

I could go on. And I often do. But I think those points cover most of my thoughts about this topic. The last point on that list is a contentious one, and one that I have not always believed. I used to say, as many teachers and parents do, if teachers don’t deduct “late marks” then students won’t be properly prepared for the realities of college/university or the work world. But here’s the problem with that:

The college/university argument: Our students do not all go on to post-secondary education. Also, educational philosophies and mandates of post secondary institutions are not the same as those of elementary and secondary institutions. We shouldn’t emulate practices that we don’t feel are beneficial to students in order to “prepare” them for bad pedagogical practices they might encounter in the future. That’s like saying to a hockey player, “I’m not going to give you pointers for improving your slap shot because in a real hockey game, you’re not going to have me there to coach you.”

The work world argument: The previous analogy that I used works for this too. But also consider this: While it’s true that you may get fired for not submitting a project to your boss on time, it’s a faulty analogy to compare this to school. In the work world, you perform a service, and in return you receive money. In school, completing assignments is not providing a service, and grades are not money. The purpose behind completing assignments is to learn and demonstrate your achievement of specific curriculum expectations. Grades are not rewards, but an evaluation of how well you’ve achieved those curriculum expectations.

So here’s the problem: many students and their parents view grades as rewards for hard work. Parents praise students for high grades. Grades are requirements for admission to colleges and universities. Until we have a society that values descriptive feedback over percentages, I really don’t see how this can change. So, in many cases, the only penalty that is meaningful to students is the deduction of grades for what is in reality a behavioural problem.

Now some might argue that we need to have meaningful behavioural consequences then for failing to submit assignments on time (or at all!). The aim of these consequences would be to help students learn the importance of meeting deadlines. Unfortunately, when you are dealing with disruptive behaviour and other types of classroom management issues, it might be a tough sell to tell teachers that they also have to assign lunch hour detentions to the students who didn’t submit their homework assignments. Don’t get me wrong. It makes perfect sense to me to say the consequence of not doing your work is that you will sit with me until you have done your work, but it’s just not always practical. That being said, I am considering assigning a lunch hour detention early on in a given course to students who fail to complete a homework assignment or other small formative task to see if it sends the message that “not doing the work” is not an option.

All right, so now that you know where I’m coming from, let’s get to the point.

The Ontario Ministry of Education has just released a document called,“Growing Success” Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario Schools. The policy document is meant to guide school boards in developing their own A and E policies. The biggest thing that I think teachers are going to jump on and perhaps do a happy dance about is page 43. On page 43 at the end of a long list of suggested interventions for late and missing assignments it suggests:

deducting marks for late assignments, up to and including the full value of the assignment.

This calls for a dramatic chipmunk moment

Now let’s move on.

That strategy is at the bottom of the list for a good reason, and since many teachers will laugh gleefully at that final strategy and ignore the next page, I would like to add that the document has a very interesting bit of text after the list, where the ministry seems to try to justify the change of heart. Here’s what it says:

There are strong and often divergent opinions on the issue of how to deal with late and missed assignments. Many stakeholders, including many parents and students, believe that marks should be deducted when assignments are late and that a zero should be assigned when a student does not submit an assignment…. Proponents of this view believe that unless students face academic consequences for non-performance in school, they will not learn to be accountable to themselves and others and will not be prepared to meet the requirements of employers or of postsecondary educational institutions.

But wait! There’s more!

On the other hand…

See. You had to know that was coming.

…many experts in the field of assessment and evaluation discourage deducting marks or giving zeros for late and missed assignments, arguing that such measures do not make students change their behaviour or help them succeed in the long run…

You get the picture. So here I am reading between the lines: “People who argue that we should deduct late marks don’t really know know what they’re talking about because they’re not experts, but they are taxpayers so we need to listen to them.”

Hmph. I’m not so sure how I feel about that wording.

Here’s what I think:

Until we have a system that does not require teachers to report within strict time frames, and until post-secondary institutions value learning skills as much as grades, we will have an imperfect assessment and evaluation system and teachers will have to do the best they can and use their best professional judgement when it comes to determining grades. I think sometimes that will mean doing things that don’t always jive with what the best educational experts promote as best practice.

What is most important is that we remember that as teachers our primary goal should be to promote student learning. We’re teachers, not evaluators.

One more time!

10 thoughts on “My thoughts on “Growing Success” Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario Schools

  1. Awesome post! Will share with colleagues working on implementing Growing Success.

    I’m inviting you to comment on the Growing Success document at http://a.nnotate.com/php/pdfnotate.php?d=2010-05-04&c=d7EF4uEI That’s a shared PDF of Growing Success where you can post sticky notes.

    So how about that zero? You know they say zero was invented independently by many civilizations, though I’d say it was invented by teachers as a place-holder for ‘no evidence’. :P

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention My thoughts on “Growing Success” Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting in Ontario Schools | Barker Blog -- Topsy.com

  3. Nice to hear from an outside expert (have always felt supported in this by inside experts in the AMDSB) that A&E policies are imperfect in the real world. My professional judgement, I hope, is an important part of the puzzle and even though I don’t always agree with the professional judgement of others, I’m willing to let that stand so that I can use my own ;)

    Your tag line made me laugh.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Susan. I’m hardly an expert though. Just a geek. I really appreciate your comment about professional judgement. While I appreciate the desire by many teachers to have a black and white policy, I don’t think they realize that such a policy would undermine their professionalism.

  5. If you are an Assessment Nerd as you proclaim to be (and so evidently are), you should read Anne Davies’ Making Classroom Assessment Work. It’s awesome. Thanks for the great blogpost.

    Sincerely,

    Fellow Nerd.

  6. Thx D. I laughed several times at this. You’ve got a great style. You also capture some great thoughts here around some of the issues we’ll be dealing with in rolling this out. And the squirrel is awesome.

  7. Thanks for the book suggestion, Royan. I’ll add it to my ever growing summer reading list!

    Colin: Thanks very much. I find a dramatic rodent can lighten just about any mood.

  8. D-Dawg – I’m sending your blog to the learning coordinator site. LOVE your brain. (Maybe because I totally agree with you. Maybe because you’re the other half of my brain. Does that mean I love my own brain? Then I shouldn’t say I love your brain. Anyway…)
    I too am a little nervous about the taking of that one line on p. 43 out of the context of the before and after. And I too agree that the system is not yet perfect. When you say “until …. happens it will be imperfect,” I’m not sure that your conditions for the perfect system will ever be met. Because we’re all just humans teaching other humans. So I’m okay with using professional judgment (do not mistake this for ‘gut feeling’) to make the best decisions I can make.
    By the way, did you hear that Damian is coming to TVDSB in November? See if you can get yourself on that little team of teachers from your school going to see him!

  9. Damian’s coming in November?! Yay! I got my lovely principal to buy copies of Talk About Assessment for our staff and then our equally lovely superintendent bought us a couple more, so now I don’t have to steal your copy. I will contact our new principal about putting together a superfan delegation.

    Thanks for passing on my blog. I’m not so sure how popular my ideas will be being that I tend to verge on radicalism but I understand what you mean.

    I love your brain too. If I were a zombie, I’d eat it.

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