Assessment Policy Release: Catalyst to Conversations

This past week, Richmond School District Superintendent Monica Pamer released a draft Assessment Policy for all those in the RSD to view and provide feedback.  This release and request is a bold and progressive way to go about reform in one of my “big two.”  My big two are the way we teach and the tools we use to help us.  The way we teach and how we go about structuring our lessons and assessing student learning is exactly this assessment policy.  This is encompassed in Damian Cooper’s “Big Idea #2” (If you get a chance to take part in one of his sessions, I highly recommend him!)

Assessment must be planned, purposeful, and accurate. Planning must ensure that assessment is aligned with curriculum, instruction, grading, and reporting.

The other is incorporating today’s technology in to the classroom which needs its own arena.  These topics are widely conversed about in my PLN but this release has everyone talking, especially those who have not been.  Everyone is talking about it at all levels and that is the point.  This approach to effecting change is also today’s way, and the way to go.  It isn’t a top-down mandate, rather it is a request to converse and offer feedback.  Kudos to Monica’s release and request and it’s timing well in advance as the feedback deadline is October.  For those of you in my age bracket, I can hear these word’s from a song: “Let’s give’em something to talk about. How about……assessment.”

So about the policy.  There are already multiple online conversations started about Richmond’s Policy, such as @JLeslie1, Richmond’s most recent Principal Appointment’s blog entry, who also mentions @terryainge, Delta Secondary’s Principal, who used to be an administrator in RSD.  There have also been face-to-face talks ‘around the watercooler.’  As much as this policy is a breath of fresh air to promote us to look at our own assessment beliefs and move out of the industrial age as Dan Pink puts it in the RSA Animate video “Drive: What Really Motivates Us”, it will bring about mixed feelings in those who have to use it day to day.  The good thing is most educators today are doing almost everything in the document without even knowing it.  The practices just have new names but the underlying principles are still the same.  This means there can be small but significant steps taken to wholeheartedly adopt the policy.  So let me shift the focus to what I think will be the tough areas/points.

On a large scale, I think some teachers will have a tough time adopting any policy at this time.  In an economic time that has been running on a deficit, and trying to stay afloat with much less money, resources and help, the thought of just ‘one more thing’ on the plate can be daunting.  This is why I like the idea that the release is a request for feedback, not a plopping of an undesired portion of brussel sprouts on the plate (sorry if you like them.)  Nonetheless, some are afraid of the perceived change in the workload.  Support, support, support, please.  Oh yes, brussel sprouts are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and taste great with bacon!

On a particular scale, I have heard issues with some of the “fixes” by Ken O’Connor.  Most notably:

Fix #10:  Don’t rely on evidence from assessments that fail to meet standards of quality; rely only on quality assessments.

If I may use some arbitrary numbers here, then what shall the teacher do if say 28 of 30 assessments “fail to meet standards of quality” and only 2 do?  Are the 28 assessments in question not useful information?  More discussion please.

How about:

Fix #2:  Don’t reduce marks on “work” submitted late; provide support for the learner.

It is a fact that all students learn at different rates.  Maybe they shouldn’t even be separated by their “date of manufacture” as Sir Ken Robinson puts it in his RSA Animate video “Changing Paradigms”, but there are a ton of real world examples used to make points around late work.  This one for sure will be a tough sell on teachers.  More discussion please.

And I will point out this last assessment practice, one that has had a lot of discussion thus far, from the Ministry of Education here in BC:

Be based on work present, not work absent.

I think this one will be even more difficult to solve than the late marks.  And again, more discussion please.

At this point, the Assessment Policy is on the horizon.  Before we know it, it will be upon us yet the road to get there still has a lot of turns to come.  It is appreciated that the discussion does not have a balcony level, rather it is being done at a roundtable.  I am glad that it is only February and October does seem a fair distance away.  I will also wrap it up by using two snippets from Tom Grant’s (Coquitlam School Board Superintendent) great blog entry on “Lessons on Change Processes” that can be seen at: http://thinkingaboutleadership.org.  Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty: “To achieve your goals you must keep up the pressure at all times.”  Sigford and Ostlund: “Look forward, not backward. (The past should be a foundation and not an anchor.)”  A paradigm shift is on its way, how we get there and the conversations are very important.

I have to admit that I got out of bed early this Sunday morning because my brain was rambling.  Thanks to all you in my PLN who help me think about way too much stuff!

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Assessment Policy Release: Catalyst to Conversations

  1. Mark Rao

    Well written sir!! I wonder if following the latest trends in education sets me up for sleepless nights and pangs of guilt that I cannot implement the ideas I read/hear about with the effectiveness I would like to. Should I concentrate on teaching with technology, establish an ethic of care, personalize learning, differentiate instruction, or spend my evenings creating fair and comprehensive summative assessments? All of the above?
    What effective elements of my current practice might I be sacrificing as I try and keep up with change? I know I have cast aside some ineffective practices. I feel better about some of the decisions I make about my students and their assessment. I feel like my mind is in a constant state of flux. I think a rambling mind is a very good thing!

    I found your blog post to be a very nice summary of some of the ideas that vex the state of my mind. I wish you well in your professional growth and learning with your PLN!

  2. Mark,
    Thank you for your response. I like your bit about your “mind is in a constant state of flux.” That says to me that you are constantly looking for ways to improve, and that means constant forward movement. That really is education at its best! There are so many movements around education out there it is difficult to grasp on to any one or group of them because they are all so good. I often fall behind on all the updates from my PLN but I am trying! And, “a rambling mind” is indeed a good thing!
    Bernie

  3. Jason Leslie

    Hey Bernie,

    Thought I would weigh in….nice post about the topic that is gathering steam around Richmond. The conversations are starting in schools, and though it promises to be a lengthy process, the potential upside is encouraging.

    I agree with much of what you wrote, especially the idea that the policy development needs to be, and fortunately is, less from “top down”, and more an invitation to start a conversation. This offers much hope and a significanlty improve chance of buy-in.

    Interesting to note, you indicate that most teachers are already doing much of what the literature indicates they should be, and just were unaware , or using different language. Yet you mention there will likely be some people who resist the timing of a new policy to be developed and implemented. Some staff may take issue with literature like Ken O’Connor’s 15 Fixes. If teachers are already doing most of what recent literature indicates they should be, I am unsure why they would be resistant to employing many of the practices that are outlined in O’Connor’s book. My suspicion is that you are correct, and that there will be some difficult conversations, but I think the willingness for staff to buy in will depend upon the following principle: Tom Schimmer wrote in his blog, “Effective practices are only as good as the systems designed to support the teachers who use them.”.

    It will be a lengthy process, and will involve many long, difficult conversations looking at what we do and why. But that is okay. In the end, it will help us create better learning environments for our students.

  4. Jason, thanks for weighing in. In response to your comment, I think with any policy-type document, it will be hard for teachers to buy in to all the parts such as the ones (3) I outlined above. This will be where the value of conversations will come in and give educators the opportunities to talk about issues and ways to digest them. 3 of a possible 26 (O’Connor’s & Ministry) is where I say most are already doing and that there shouldn’t be too much trouble making a change in our assessment thoughts and practices. To end, I totally agree that there will be difficult conversations ahead and think that is for the best. That is where the real thoughts about attitudes around assessment will come out and the significant steps will be taken around assessment in our district.

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