Canadian Assessment for Learning Network Newsletter, 
September, 2020

CAfLN President's Greetings

Lori Jeschke, Director of Education, Prairie Spirit SD, Saskatchewan
For August 28th, it seems like a pretty normal day. The sun is shining, there are a couple of fluffy clouds in an otherwise blue sky and there is a bit of a breeze blowing through the tree branches. If you are lucky enough to get to be out in the country, you can see swathers and combines on the fields and grain trucks and trailers waiting to be filled. There is an autumn smell in the air and if you listen closely, you can hear geese honking as they fly overhead. Seems pretty normal, doesn’t it?
And yet, we are in unusual times. We are preparing to start up a school year like no other – with staff and students who have not been in classrooms for over 5 months. There are expectations and guidelines and research and data and if we let it – we could get distracted from our core work of learning. Children and students come to school to learn. And we are the ones who get to facilitate that learning.
A story is told of a children’s author, Theodore Gisel, who was tasked with writing a book using only 50 words. That’s quite a constraint. He could have responded that the task was impossible or ridiculous, but he didn’t. He took on that challenge and made the constraint into something quite beautiful. The first words of the book he wrote are” I am Sam”…any guesses as to what book that is? Who the author is? This story and the idea of a constraint being beautiful are from a book titled, Beautiful Constraints by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden. The book is based on the philosophy that we CAN…IF…
I am excited about the ways in which our CAFLN members, together with our partners from the Alberta Assessment Consortium, are creating beauty out of the constraints that we are dealing with. I invite you to keep your eyes peeled for plans for a virtual CAfLN Conference – How Clear is Your Vision? Assessment 20/20 with a focus on connecting, sharing practice, and celebrating what we are learning! Look at the ad below for a sneak peak!
What are the targets that you are focusing on as you start this year? How will you hold them steady?

Editor's Message

Katie White, Author, Teacher and Consultant
I just accepted my first teaching position since I moved to consulting a few years ago, and this new role has shifted my focus on assessment for learning (AfL) toward one of practical and imminent application. The Canadian Assessment for Learning Network newsletter has always aimed to strike a balance between theoretical discourse and practical application. We know that everyday instructional manouevres, informed by AfL, depend on a firm grasp of what the research suggests will work best. We hope this combination of information (the why and how of assessment) is helpful to our audience.

This first newsletter of the school year offers guidance for teachers who are working hard to prepare for multiple educational contexts across Canada. You will find both the theoretical and the practical, with an exploration of learning for students and teachers. You may also notice that articles contain reference to assessment of learning from time-to-time. While the primary focus of the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network is assessment that powers learning forward, an examination of how we might make summative decisions helps to contextualize AfL within broader assessment systems. This newsletter aims to provide food for thought on all aspects of assessment in varied educational contexts.

We hope you enjoy this issue and that you may consider recommending our free publication to friends and colleagues--they can subscirbe on the CAfLN website. If you wish to contribute an article to future newsletters, please contact me at Enjoy reading and here's to new beginnnings!  

Conference Announcement!

Prepare to Pivot

Tom Schimmer, Author and Educational Consultant
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic last spring forced schools around the world to immediately move to a remote learning model. The acute move to virtual learning made it clear that not everything we do in schools transitions seamlessly from a face-to-face model. It is, in many ways, a one-way street--every aspect of assessment that works virtually will work in a face-to-face environment; the reverse is not always true.
With the majority of Canadian schools returning this fall with a small, medium, or large amount of face-to-face learning, it might feel tempting to get back to normal. However, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, the 2020-21 school year could have several starts, stops, and new iterations of what learning looks like. Rather than longing for a return to normal, teachers would be wise to prepare to pivot by anticipating the various models that may unfold.
In other words, plan for remote learning and assessment and you’ll be poised to pivot.
By planning for remote learning, teachers will avoid trying to assess (even over-assess) fundamental learning targets that are most often assessed through selected-response questions. One of the main concerns teachers (especially secondary teachers) had last spring was academic dishonesty; teachers weren’t sure how to control for students copying each other during summative assessments. Spending any time controlling for academic dishonesty is time that could have been spent elsewhere. The easy solution is to ensure that summative assessment involves only that which can’t be replicated.
To be clear, the fundamental learning targets need to be taught and assessed; however, the resulting evidence should be used formatively to guide students to what’s next along the learning progression. By prioritizing feedback, teachers can focus on learning rather than marks, grades, scores, or levels. Learning and grades are not necessarily antithetical; in fact, our goal should be to ensure that grades are an accurate reflection of learning. However, we do know that grades, marks, scores, and levels can interfere with a student’s willingness to keep learning so the most favourable course of action would be to assess in absence of any mark, score, or level so using the elicited evidence formatively can happen unabatedly.
By planning for remote learning, teachers will be ready for any hybrid or face-to-face iterations during the upcoming school year. Again, if it doesn’t work virtually it probably shouldn’t be a part of on-site assessment. At some point we have to fully embrace the modern reality that knowledge is now the means not the end. Knowledge is what allows students to think critically, creatively, and even collaboratively. Afterall, thinking doesn’t occur in a vacuum; to think you have to think about something which means knowledge is repurposed, not dismissed.
As for summative assessment, emphasize quality over quantity by ensuring the most sophisticated demonstrations of learning as identified by the cognitive complexity of the learning outcomes are met and that the assessment tasks are rich, are flexible in terms of how students show-what-they-know, and are opportunities for original thinking. Whether that thinking is revealed remotely or face-to-face, the originality of the thinking will give teachers greater confidence in knowing that the learning being assessed is the student’s.
We can’t be certain of how this school year is going to unfold. Teachers, principals, and even district staff should anticipate several shifts from on-site to hybrid to remote learning; being wrong with this anticipation will have little to no consequences. If assessment works remotely it will work with the other two so teachers can be simultaneously effective with their assessment practices while being necessarily efficient with the use of their instructional and assessment minutes. Ineffective planning paired with an inefficient use of time is a recipe for frustration and burnout.
No one could have anticipated the monumental efforts required last spring and the steep learning curve teachers, principals, parents, and students experienced; it was as intense as anything we’ve seen in generations. However, that is not true going forward. The tiniest sliver of good news from the impact the pandemic had on teaching and learning is that it forced many to rethink assessment practices and habits that had previously gone unchecked. There has never been a more apropos time to audit our assessment practices to ensure that the intended, deep, and sophisticated evidence of learning necessary to meet our current learning outcomes is realized.

Try This Strategy: This is a picture of...Please notice...

Lori Jeschke 

This is a picture of...
Please notice...

As a Director, I am always looking for ways to gather evidence of learning for my Superintendent team. I pay attention to the importance of modeling throughout our Division. I am conscious of the importance of modeling the practice of gathering evidence.

Everyone, from our youngest students to our most senior administrators must gather evidence of learning. We ask our smallest of students in their classrooms to turn and talk - sharing their connections out loud. We ask our teachers to co-create criteria of what counts in solving a math problem with their students and then to use that criteria to provide feedback, We ask our administrators to provide feedback to their teachers following classroom visits by posing a mediative question to further their reflection on their practice: "I noticed your intentional use of pausing during your lesson" and "what effects might your pausing have on your students' learning?" Learning happens everywhere and gathering evidence is part of the journey.

In our school division, we believe it is important to learn side by side with our in-school administrators. At one of our monthly administrator meetings, I took pictures of each of the superintendents. At our next meeting, I gave each superintendent a copy of the picture I took of them and asked them to respond to the picture in terms of their identified goals.

Imagine a picture of a Superintendent standing near a group of administrators who are deep in conversation. They might fill in their sticky note phrases in this way:
     -This is a picture of...the administrator meeting. 
     -Please notice...I just asked this group of principals and vice principals what leadership question they are living with right now. One of my goals is to ask questions that invite deep thinking. 

We shared our pictures and talked about what we noticed. This picture was added to their evidence towards their goals for the year. This strategy can be used in any number of contexts.

Evidence-based Reflection - Exemplar with Professional Learning Questions

Kim Waugh-Motoska
This professional learning opportunity begins by inviting teachers to form groups of 2-4. Each group reviews the exemplar and ponders, first individually and then with each other: What are your thoughts about this student process? ....while the facilitator circulates and listens-in on conversations. This is followed by sharing as a whole group and going through some process work with the more specific questions. Some things to note about the exemplar (used as a catalyst for the adult reflection process):
  • The focus was taken from the Alberta grade 4 programs of study for 3 different subjects. These cross-curricular outcomes were chosen by the students from a given selection and written in their words.
  • Over many weeks, through the teacher’s intentional pedagogical practices, students developed proficiency in learning how to acquire and apply the success criteria for each of these targets and develop the metacognitive awareness to engage meaningfully in this reflection process.
  • Students were tasked to provide one or more examples from any recent task that was evidence that he/she met or has not yet met the target. If not evident, they add next steps and personal accountability for how to get there.
  • This exemplar was deliberately chosen to share because it was written by one of the ‘middle of the pack’ students in the class.
  • It was re-typed from the original. The words are the student’s own, however names were changed, and spelling/punctuation was corrected for clarification.
  • Students were expected to express one or more examples from their recent work which would be evidence that he/she met or did not yet meet the target. If not evident, they add next steps/ personal accountability for how to get there.
Student Exemplar:

Reflection Questions:
1. Would you consider that this reflection is evidence that the student knows what he/she is expected to do and has developed metacognitive skills to continue moving forward?
2. In order to bring her students to this point, what steps might the teacher have taken, and which strategies might she have been employed earlier in the year? 
3. What might be the benefit of having students engage in this type of work at specific intervals during a reporting period, as well as at year/unit/project end?
4. Might it be beneficial to use this process for a more limited number of targets and/or tied to one specific subject area? Why?
5. What might be some teacher considerations (both positives and challenges) when deciding to use precious learning time over the year to teach, foster and improve students’ ability to engage in such a reflective practice?
6. How/when might you use or tweak this strategy with your students? 
7. How does this process relate to something you’re already doing with your students?

Pressing Needs at Albert College: Considering Assessment Practices in a Pandemic
Dr. Suparna Roy, Coordinator of Teaching, Learning, & Innovation and Melissa Kurenoff, Middle & Senior School French Teacher

Growth and Change at Albert College  

Every educational institution has been grappling with fast-paced changes and uncertainties as this present school year amid the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds. At Albert College, a K—12 independent school located in Belleville, Ontario, we too have tried to keep our learning community thriving by focusing on assessment practices that would be most beneficial for those who are both learning synchronously and asynchronously. Of our nearly 300 students, we have over 30 students who are learning asynchronously by tuning in from countries all over the world.   

We adopted Edsby, a learning management system, to streamline communication and help students stay organized. From an assessment perspective, Edsby will now allow teachers to post feedback and grades on a platform to which both parents and students can have immediate and regular access. Edsby effectively increases both the visibility of assessment practices and alters the ways by which a learning community engages with the curriculum. We also deliberated upon whether we should continue holding final examinations during a pandemic. The decision was “no” and to, instead, provide alternative summative experiences for our students. However, we needed more guidance on what these tasks might look like. These two pressing needs, that of adopting Edsby and re-visioning final assessments without an examination, became the focal points of a professional development video that we created for teachers as they prepared for the start of this school year. Specifically, we asked:   

1.      With our new learning management system in mind, how could we continue to cultivate a feedback system that nurtures a growth mindset for all involved? 

2.      What are some alternative summative assessment ideas that can be operationalized in lieu of traditional exam-based assessments?  

A shared collaborative document with three exercises accompanied the video we created. It could be completed individually but it was collaborative in the sense that all teachers could fill out the same document and learn from the answers given by other teachers in their respective divisions.  

 Imagine Your Graduating Student 

Before charging into assessment discourse and pulling out summative ideas, we provided teachers with a moment to step back and reflect. We asked them about their goals for their students and to imagine what a student, who graduated from their class or courses, would be able to demonstrate or do by the end of the year. They typed these “imaginings” on the digital collaborative document as their first exercise in the space provided for their division. 

To help stimulate ideas, we provided an exemplar. By the end of her French course, Melissa shared how she wanted her students to:  

1.      Be able to judge the quality of the information they are presented with, 

2.      Be able to solve problems on their own, 

3.      Be able to monitor and understand their own learning process, and 

4.      Build confidence and resilience along the way. 

We also shared 21st century competencies (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016) as well as Albert College’s “portrait of a graduate”— a set of five characteristics (collaborative, creative, courageous, compassionate, and confident) that in-house data indicates our students cultivate before graduating. 

 Sharing Feedback Through Edsby 

Once teachers had a chance to reflect upon their respective class graduates, we asked them to consider, given our new learning management system, how their assessment practices would get them there. What types of evidence (conversations, observations, and products) would they collect given online and offline learning opportunities? How would they describe their assessment practices to parents and reflect it on Edsby? How would their assessment practices change if we had to pivot, once again, to distance learning? We wanted to help teachers come up with the most effective strategies to nudge students forward. For example, we talked about how meaningful formative feedback through a digital medium (being immediate, regular, integrated, and individualized) can be more effective in fostering learning (Searle et al., 2017).  

Promoting more consistency throughout the primary, junior, middle, and senior divisions was also an objective in this section of our video. We provided teachers with time to think about how they talk to students about the categories of knowledge, thinking, communication, and application. We also discussed the creation and use of rubrics. If report card grades, for example, range from “needs improvement” to “excellent” on a five-point scale as they do in the Junior School, or percentage grades for the Senior School, and a rubric is created on a four-level scale, how do we help our students understand movements from one scale to another so that they can work towards continued improvement and be on the same page as the teacher?   

Melissa shared a sample of a four-level rubric she used in Saskatchewan and how she adapted it to the Ontario percentage grade system. She found that because her old rubrics were designed to reflect the four levels of “not yet meeting expectations,” “beginning to meet expectations,” “meeting expectations,” and “exceeding understanding,” a three out of four on her rubric translated to a grade of 75% which, to her, was lower than meeting expectations. Melissa re-aligned the four-level rubric with percentage grades by deciding that “meeting expectations” fell between an 80% to a 90% and then created mark levels on her rubric accordingly (1 to 2 marks, 3 to 5 marks, 6 to 7 marks, and 8 marks for each level category respectively). 

In addition to striving for grade-level consistency and clarity with students and parents, we asked how we could build more opportunities for feedback loops so that a student could be “apprenticed” towards a product that documented engagement and unfolding understanding We discussed ideas like building rubrics with students and creating time for more student-teacher conferencing. We then asked the teachers to pause the video and answer at least one of the many questions we posed above for this section. 

 Five Summative Task "Gems” from Dr. Sue Fostaty Young 

We turned to Dr. Sue Fostaty Young, Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Queen’s University, for help in generating ideas for summative tasks that could replace traditional final examinations. Dr. Fostaty Young shared the following gems with us that she had curated from several professors who were tackling the same issue (many of these ideas, excitingly, can be adapted to the JK to Grade 12 level): 

1.      Case studies: Students can analyze cases based on what they have learned in the course. 

2.      World dilemma: Ask students to pick a world dilemma or a grand problem and as the course unfolds, have them keep a diary of observations/data that they gather.  

3.      The Glossary: Present students with a glossary of major learning themes or terms covered during the course/subject area/year and have them make connections to each with personal examples/experiences. 

4.      Annotated Bibliography: Throughout the course, have students amass a variety of sources linked to a topic area and identify the ideas and facts, make connections to real-life examples that either support or refute the ideas, and then examine the implications. 

5.      Mind Map: On the first day of the course, have students create a mind map of what they already know. As more learning occurs, have the students add to the mind map. 

Dr. Fostaty Young’s educational research is based on the framework of Ideas, Connections, and Extensions, or ICE (Young, Young, & Wilson, 2000). She provided an example of how a professor has been using her work with True and False questions. If the answer is “true,” then all is well. If the answer is “false,” then the student must identify what part of the statement makes it false and provide the correction. The student can also choose “uncertain,” but must indicate what pieces of information are missing. This way the student can demonstrate that they understand the ideas and the connections between the ideas, as well as extend or apply those ideas to novel situations based on the questions. Notice that this exercise (as well as many of the others) can be used as a diagnostic tool as well. After providing all of these summative strategies to the teachers, we asked them to, for the final time, pause the video and fill out the collaborative digital document to share their current thinking around their own final summative assessments.

 Moving Forward at Albert College  

Now that school is underway, the students must get used to new ways of interacting safely with each other, the school space, the digital space, and then negotiate the curriculum throughout it all. As the year progresses, we will continue to learn how to best use the tools provided in our new learning management system and both formative and summative tasks to nurture growth and a positive mindset within our learning community. Talking about assessment, for us, provides a sense of assurance because we know that wherever there is an intention to foster growth in our values, relationships, learning skills, and skill sets, there lies a wonderful assessment conversation just waiting to be had. 

Works Cited 

Fostaty Young, C. S., & Wilson, R. J. (2000). Assessment and learning: The ICE approach. Portage & Main Press. Winnipeg, MB: Peguis. 

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2016). 21st century competencies: Foundation document for discussion. Retrieved from

Searle, M., Elrofaie, A., Kirkpatrick, L. C., Sauder, A., & Brown, H. M. (2017). Investigating the Use of a One-to-One Technology Programme on Formative Assessment Practices in Grades 7 to 9 Classroom Learning Environments. Assessment Matters11, 145-170. 


AfL Resources Highlight

Here are some links to a few amazing and interesting supports for assessment for learning:

Tom Schimmer, a well-known Canadian author and educational consultant on the topic of assessment, has a new podcast. Tom promises several interesting features each week, including interviews and reflections on current events in education. You can subscribe anywhere where you find podcasts. The first episode airs September 21 but there are a few teasers available right now! 

Time to Make Lemonade! by the Alberta Assessment Consortium
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