-by Deirdre Bailey
My journey in assessment began in Grade 4 with a strict focus on engaging students in formative feedback in order to work toward involving them more effectively in the learning process. With an emphasis on teaching them the importance of learning from failure and keeping all aspects of their thinking visible, I veered away from efforts to constantly summarize or make conclusive statements about their level of mastery of individual learning outcomes focusing instead on general growth. I was not deliberately engaged in constantly collecting tangible evidence of student growth focusing instead on moment-by-moment interactions with students in the classroom context. Most of these formative assessment exchanges in the classroom were responsive and undocumented which meant I rarely had evidence of these interchanges to share with parents or even reflect on with students at a later date. As a result, my assessment philosophy was much more aligned with a holistic reporting framework in which student performance was judged globally in both Math and Science on a term-by-term basis. Though specific feedback was provided to students in the moment on specific outcomes, detailed artifactual statements reflecting on their general performance on each outcome was not a part of my practice.
With a transition from the Grade 4 classroom to a Physical Education environment, the difficulty of relying slowly on my intimate knowledge of each learner in the classroom context began to fail. I had 600 students instead of 50 and the value of capturing tangible artifacts of students’ moments of growth and mastery became a necessity in order for me to provide professionally accurate summative judgements of students’ learning on a term-by-term basis. This started with the use of Edmodo to collect video and picture evidence of student work. It was an effective tool for archiving student work or communicating with an entire class but it didn’t generate the kind of portfolio we had been hoping students might be able to build over 6 years of physical education at Connect. It also did not provide students with the opportunity to look back through a collective body of work at the end of a term.
With my most recent shift back to the classroom but in a Division III context in which the sheer quantity of Math and Science outcomes that students were expected to master had increased notably, I renewed my investigation into an online tool that would allow me to maintain an assessment philosophy focused on growth, autonomy, metacognition and conversation, but one that would also capture or summarize student learning in way that provided a clear understanding of where they were with respect to individual learning outcomes. In conversation with teachers from other schools I started the year using Sesame on a trial basis. This digital portfolio tool had been adopted school-wide by the Calgary Arts Academy and was taking the place entirely of their rigorous, narrative-based reporting process with a lot of positive feedback. I really appreciated that Sesame allowed student work to be archived visibly on their individual pages and that my assessments could be attached and were not limited to quantified feedback as Edmodo’s had been. I quickly became frustrated with their assessment “scale” however, which automatically converted descriptors of student work to percentage-based indicators. In conversation with Kevin Sonico and the Grade 5 team, we realized that FreshGrade provided many of the same benefits as Sesame with the added advantage that their “Mastery” scale included outcomes our school already used on our summative report cards and did not automatically convert these outcomes to an arbitrarily assigned percentage-based equivalent. As a result of this conversation and some further investigation, we started term 2 in Grade 7 with a shift to FreshGrade.
Next time, Deirdre and Kevin share how student autonomy supports the adoption of an outcomes-based assessment philosophy in their classrooms.