Sunday, January 20, 2013

Using Assessment for Learning to Design an Inclusive School - Step 1

Simple Rule: The school will employ effective, inclusive and research-based formative assessment practices in the classroom to positively impact student achievement and to align with Ministry and Board assessment policies. Designing a school with effective assessment practices requires articulation of those practices and development of a school-wide schema (Bain, 2007). Ontario’s Ministry of Education makes explicit reference to the positive impact of formative assessment on student learning in its recent release of its new publication Growing Success (Ontario, 2010a). Parts of this document mimic the CBAL model (Cognitively Based Assessment of, for and as Learning) as a ‘theory of action’ (Bennett, 2010) for implementation in the classroom. In direct alignment with the Ministry policy, our school board released an assessment policy with a similar approach. Also, the Ontario School Effectiveness Framework, a schema used for school improvement planning purposes, offers specific assessment strategies to use in the classroom. The document makes references to the use of ‘assessment as, for and of learning’, ‘feedback’, ‘learning goals’, ‘success criteria’ and ‘self and peer assessment’ as particularly effective formative assessment practices (Ontario, 2010b). It is important to note that often policies and government publications are informed by relevant and applicable research. In particular, the research on the impact of formative assessment is clear: • learning goals and assessment aligned with instruction affords greater learning possibilities (Dwyer, 1998); • formative assessment when used with students with disabilities enhances their learning (Black & William, 2001) and; • using, articulating and revising learning goals enables teachers to deepen their understanding of the curriculum and thereby affect student understanding (Falk, 2011). The research, government and board policies offer tenets of the same message: formative assessment is inclusive and positively impacts student learning and achievement in the classroom. The simple rule is designed to be used in the classroom to inform instruction and next steps. It is questionable whether or not a focus on summative assessment would yield similar results compared to formative assessment and its impact on student learning (Black & William, 1998). The value of focusing on assessment as and for learning is to scaffold the learning so that the student is better prepared and has a deeper understanding of the material which will be evaluated on the summative assessment. Sharing success should be a key feature in the design of this simple rule. Successful formative assessment strategies used in individual classrooms should be shared in ‘communities of practice’ (Bennett, 2010) to strengthen pedagogical approaches to impact student learning and achievement in every classroom.

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