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Blog: Thursday, May 30th, 2019

Assessments That Matter

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

One of the questions that I have been pondering since our graduation program came to fruition is what assessments should look like in a competency-based system. The fundamental reason for updating our curriculum was to address the skills and dispositions students will need to be healthy and productive citizens in the years to come. This naturally meant less focus on content and more on dispositions and competencies. We need to deliberately invest in building students critical thinking and problem solving, their communication and collaboration, their creative and adaptive skills, as well as their personal and social identities. I truly believe that this is exactly the place we need to go to modernize our education system. The big question is, how do we know that they are getting there?

The step of getting rid of largely content-based provincial exams was, in my opinion, the right move. But howt do we replace the functions that exams fulfilled? Some have argued that we should simply leave the assessments to the very capable teachers who have helped to make our education system one of the best in the world. There is some wisdom to that perspective. After all, our teachers have shown that they best know our students and know what they need to be successful. The obvious downside to this is perspective is its low inter-rater reliability. In a nutshell, an A in English 12 in South Peace Secondary might be completely different than the same letter grade given at WJ Mouat Secondary. How will students, parents and post-secondary institutes discern between regional or even school-based differences? Surely, we have some responsibility to society in general to confirm that we are fulfilling the intentions of the public education system. So perhaps some kind of a provincial measure is useful in helping us to answer these questions.

It is largely for that reason that the Ministry has decided to adopt literacy and numeracy assessments in grade 10 and a literacy assessment in grade 12. I spoke with a few teachers whose students took the first versions of these assessments, and they each captured the important observation that the literacy assessment was not an English test and the numeracy assessment was a math test. In a nutshell, these are (or ought to be) assessments designed to assess the application, problem solving, creativity and communication, skills which cut across all the curricular areas. In practice it means that all teachers are responsible for teaching these skills to their students.

But is this the only way that students will demonstrate their acquisition of these skills and dispositions? I hope not. While I understand the need to have a provincial assessment, I think it is far more important for us find creative ways to tell the story of what students can understand and do as a consequence of their time in our schools. Teaching and learning is a tremendously complex endeavor, and caution should be extended that we not fall into the trap of using single measures to show learning. No single letter grade or test should ever be used to communicate student learning. In addition to provincial assessments, we should communicate with course-based grades, measures of social-emotional learning, demonstrations of learning, capstone projects, and student self-reflections, and so on.; We are complex beings, and it makes sense that multiple data sources should be used to tell the story of our students’ varied successes. We are encouraging all our students to use tools like MyBluePrint to capture evidence of their learning journeys. The provincial assessments are only a small part of this story.

By Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.