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.
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 http://www.edugains.ca/resources21CL/About21stCentury/21CL_21stCenturyCompetencies.pdf
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 Matters, 11, 145-170.