Guest post: Alternative assessment methods in Alberta better enable personalization

This blog post originally appeared on the Education Innovating blog run by Education Evolving from 2010 to 2011. It has now been merged into our main blog.

Editor’s note: Each Friday we feature guest bloggers that are involved in rethinking what is possible with schooling and the education system.

Dale Skoreyko is principal at McNally High School in Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada. In this post he describes that effective school wide assessment plans should be ongoing, in real time; and resist final grades or averaging of all grades.

By eliminating the impact of daily performance measures on a student’s final grade the exchange of information and feedback between students and teachers changes. The design of curriculum and learning processes may become more personalized by releasing the pressure for every student to produce the same end product. This can be replicated, he argues—school-wide—and has been.

Dale has implemented assessment plans at McNally High, Londonderry Junior High, and East Glen High School. He has presented classroom practice and leadership sessions since 2004 at the Alberta Assessment Consortium.

Teachers provide students with learning activities and assessment activities. This is not an epiphany; in fact we have known and done this for thousands of years. Why then are we so fascinated with the “new” idea of not including marks gathered from learning activities in the determination of a student’s grade?

An effective school wide assessment plan accounts for the activities and assessments that take place during the course of instruction and learning. As such, the marks generated from these tasks are used to inform the parents, student and teacher about the level of progress through the curriculum. They would not be used in the calculation of report card grades. Teachers need to provide up to date information on the current status of learning, rather than a historical analysis calculated using “averaging.”

By eliminating the impact of these formative learning activities on a student’s grade, the teachers are free of perceived constraints related to the nature of assignments and demonstrations of learning. Students are able to work with information on a personal level and demonstrate their knowledge and concept understanding that retains the rigor of curriculum alignment, but does not require every student to produce the same end product.

In the schools where I have been principal we have developed assessment plans that encourage creativity from our students and honors the understanding that learning occurs through different pathways, at different rates. Teachers gain an acute understanding of their program curriculum objectives coupled with a loose expectation regarding how success in those outcomes will be demonstrated. At first, this creates varying levels of anxiety for traditional teachers as they develop their marking keys and rubrics. Very quickly however, even the most reticent teacher realizes that the important aspect of assessment is to identify a student’s curriculum strengths and weaknesses rather than their strict adherence to a particular assessment methodology. The students and teachers are free to investigate the various ways of knowing. How liberating!

I have had the opportunity to present the results of this work in my schools to various schools and school districts in Alberta. Through teacher and school administrator presentations we have charted the critical path to developing a school wide assessment policy that fosters student participation, increases attendance, decreases student conduct issues and increases course completions. Sounds amazing? It’s really just good teaching with fair assessment practices; no magic involved.

Image: Dale Skoreyko

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