Welcome to the Canadian Assessment for Learning Newsletter March, 2019. 

Getting Beyond "Yeah But..."

Brooke Moore, District Principal of Inquiry and Innovation, Delta School District #37
Yeah, but: one of those phrases that thunders even when whispered.
This May the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network is gathering in BC’s Lower Mainland to go beyond the yeah, but
  • We know that feedback is good for learning.
    Yeah, but how do you make that work when I don’t have endless time?
  • We know that grades can get in the way of learning.
    Yeah, but what about the report card.
  • We know that learning targets need to be inclusive.
    Yeah, but how do I make learning possible for everyone without lowering the bar?  
One of the ways to bridge a “yeah, but” to a “yes, let’s” is with examples.
Luckily, educators and researchers from across Canada have many to share!
@VivianCollyer from Vancouver Island will offer facilitation strategies for taking teacher collab groups focused on a assessment to a place of deep learning.
@TJTerryJo from Saskatchewan will share the Assess-Respond-Instruct planning framework that puts AfL in action to bridge learning gaps.
@KatieWhite426 also from Saskatchewan will show us how some teachers have used student work as an organizing force in their collaboration.
@technolandy from coastal BC will offer ways to use eportfolios to engage kids in formative descriptive feedback loops.
@bmgwteach and @brucemellesmoen a team from Saskatchewan will share how their staff moved learning from K to 12 by challenging assessment beliefs.
@ChristineYH from Northern BC will help us consider what learning would look like if we focused more on pass/fail than grades.
@MarcusBrims and @the_write_anand from Toronto will show teachers how to assess classroom conversations and school data in an intentional way.
Another team from Ontario will offer an approach for improving math learning through observations and conversations.
An English teacher and PE teacher from BC’s Lower Mainland will share with you how they use the same AFL principles in their separate disciplines.
This is just a flavor of what is to come. For more information on these and other sessions, please go to - then register to join us. Everyone who is interested in learning more about assessment for learning and connecting with others who are curious about the same thing is welcome. This is a rare, Canadian mash up of researchers, leaders, and teachers. Come join the fun.
Save the Dates
6th Annual CAfLN Conference and Symposium
May 2-4, 2019
Delta, BC

Registration now open! Register today.

Greetings from Ken O'Connor

Attending the CAfLN Conference and Symposium is a MUST

I have had the good fortune to attend all the CAfLN Conferences and Symposiums starting in Winnipeg in May, 2014, then Nanaimo, then Kingston, then Saskatoon and last May in Halifax. All of them have been different in some ways but they have all been the same in it that they have been great professional and personal experiences. I’ve met many dedicated (and fun) Canadian educators who want to learn and share their knowledge and understanding. I have learned a great deal about assessment for learning from the keynotes and breakouts, but even more from the informal discussions before and after the sessions. I’m sure that learning is going to continue in Delta this year because Brooke and Neil and their committee have planned wonderful learning opportunities including for the first time the school tours and Ignite sessions on Thursday and then the Conference on Friday.

Following the conference on Saturday is the Symposium for members, which includes the required Annual General Meeting. I have learned and enjoyed each of the conferences but I think my best experiences have been in the Symposium, where, working in small groups, we are able to dig deeply into assessment for learning and how the network can be developed to enhance AfL across Canada.

I hope that we will have record numbers for both the conference and symposium in Delta, so come one, come all. I promise that you will not be disappointed!!!

Research Feature

Authors: Dr. Man-Wai Chu1, Rebecca Aston1, Dan Farrell2, Stephanie Tate2, & Claire Hlousek
1University of Calgary, 2Calgary Catholic School District

Aligning Curriculum and Assessments

Teachers often have a strong understanding of best assessment practices that work for their classrooms. This article aims to refine those existing ideas by bolstering them with some different ideas. One of the first principles of developing assessments is to ensure every task and item administered is aligned to the learner outcomes listed in the program of studies (Principles for Fair Student Assessment Practices for Education in Canada, 1993). This idea of alignment makes sense because we want to ensure that we are properly assessing the learner outcomes that we taught.

Curriculum-Assessment Alignment

Curriculum-assessment alignment is one of the most significant high-yield strategies for improving student achievement (Pellegrino, 2006); but this process is often not performed for all classroom assessments (Webb, 1997). Generally, most of the assessments we administer to our students are aligned to an outcome, but to explicitly indicate which outcomes are being addressed by each measure is probably not at the top of our ‘to-do’ lists. This process is particularly important for assessments that have been shared with us by other colleagues because those assessments may have been developed for a specific classroom. A recent curriculum-assessment alignment project, revealed some very interesting results, which indicate the necessity of this process to enhance classroom assessments.

First, regular re-alignment of classroom assessments administered is needed. After alignment of the learner outcomes and assessments used during one unit of study, we found that the tasks and items administered during the unit were heavily weighted towards measuring a few outcomes, while other outcomes were only measured a few times. Additionally, the alignment process also revealed that portions of the items administered did not align with the current program of studies.

Second, a team approach should be used when developing and enhancing assessments. When we aligned the assessments as a team, we found that some of the summative assessments used overlapping items which did not adequately represent the transition of content and difficulty levels of each grade. This opportunity for subject teachers to collaborate across grades provided them with the opportunity to understand the bigger picture of the assessments developed across the different grade levels in one subject. The danger associated with developing assessments in isolation is that the assessments are not consistent within and between each grade level.

Third, emphasize higher-order thinking tasks and items. Many of the formative and summative tasks and items focused on lower-order thinking skills such as memorization of content instead of higher-order thinking skills such as application of knowledge.

Lastly, modifications and revisions to existing and/or frequently used items. During our alignment process, we discovered the need to develop new items for some of the assessments. While we were looking for ideas to develop new items, we found that most of the textbook exam bank items, which were used as formative assessments, were available on the internet.

What Can Classroom Teachers Do?
Although this curriculum-assessment alignment project was conducted by a team of teachers and researchers, all classroom teachers may also conduct an alignment of the outcomes they teach and assessments they administer. And to this end, I encourage everyone reading this article to align all the outcomes with their assessments. To help you with this process, consider using the alignment chart below and these steps to get you started:
  1. List out all the learner outcomes from your program of studies in the alignment chart.
  2. Gather all the formative and summative assessments that you use during a unit of study.
  3. Read each task or item and indicate which outcome(s) it best aligns with.
  4. Decide which level of thinking skills this task or item is designed to measure (i.e., higher- or lower-order thinking skills).
  5. Write down the task or item number in the appropriate row (i.e., outcome) and column (i.e., level of thinking skills).
  6. Tally the total number of tasks or items in each row and column.
  7. Answer this question: are the total number of tasks or items in each row and column balanced among the different outcomes and levels of thinking?
Following these steps may provide you with an indication of whether or not your assessments are aligned to the learner outcomes listed in the program of studies and balanced across the different outcomes and levels of thinking. When the assessments are aligned to the program of studies, teachers are then better able to report on whether a student has met all the outcomes for a specific unit of study.

Curriculum-Assessment Alignment Table
Learner Outcomes Task and Item Number TOTAL
Lower-Order Thinking Skills (e.g., Memorization) Higher-Order Thinking Skills (e.g., Application)

Pellegrino, J., (2006). Rethinking and Redesigning Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment: A Paper Commissioned by the National Center on Education and the Economy for the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. National Center on Education and the Economy.

Principles for Fair Student Assessment Practices for Education in Canada. (1993). Edmonton, Alberta: Joint Advisory Committee. (Mailing Address: Joint Advisory Committee, Centre for Research in Applied Measurement and Evaluation, 3-104 Education Building North, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, T6G 2G5).

Webb, N. L. (1997, January). Determining alignment of expectations and assessments in mathematics and science education. NISE Brief 1,(2). Retrieved from

Try This!

Flower Garden Assessment by Dr Paige Fisher

One of the most powerful and adaptable tools I’ve ever used in the classroom to support AfL is the Flower Garden. I have used it with children as young as 5 and graduate students and it always offers meaningful insights into students’ perceptions of their own learning.

The basic strategy?

  1. Give students a piece of paper and colours.
  2. You decide the categories you would like the learners to reflect on.
  3. Each flower in this very basic garden is drawn to represent the learners’ confidence in relation to the category. The size of the flower, the number of leaves and other details are indicators of their feelings about the topic.
  4. The most effective use of this strategy is a one-to-one conference with the garden as the basis of the conversation.

Why gardens? Because there can always be growth. Even a seed is ok. Flowers are easy to draw and learners’ readily engage with the task.

Categories? In a K-12 classroom I may use it to have the learner reflect on their feelings about subject areas, core competencies or coping strategies. My student teachers reflect on their growth in relation to different aspects of teaching - planning, assessment, knowledge of learners’ needs, graduate students may reflect on their understanding of theoretical frameworks, research methods or leadership capacity. It is incredibly adaptable and always powerful.

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