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  • Assessment

    “Communicating Student Learning”

    “Communicating Student Learning” is a vital part of a school’s mandate. Communication provides effective feedback for teachers, students and parents and occurs in a variety of formats. As a family of schools (Island Lakes Community School, J.H. Bruns Collegiate, Niakwa Place School & Shamrock School) our goal is to provide the community with information about assessment and learning. 

    Our local schools will contribute their own information about assessment and learning on this assessment tab. Our family of schools recognizes the continuum of learning that exists from Kindergarten to Grade 12 and the importance of an established network of communication between our local schools. You will find useful terminology and “Frequently Asked Questions” on this page. We hope that you will use this as a reference to the principles and practices of effective communication about student learning. 

    In order for communication to be clear, shared understanding of terms and language is required. (MECY, 2008)

    Frequently Asked Questions About Assessment

    Assessment serves different purposes at different times; it may be used to find out what students already know and can do; it may be used to help students improve their learning; or it may be used to let students and their parents know how much they have learned within a prescribed period of time. – Damian Cooper, Talk About Assessment: Strategies and Tools to Improve Learning

    What is formative assessment?

    Formative assessment can best be thought of as a form of “coaching”. Teachers provide suggestions and corrective feedback (verbal or written) to students with the intention of improving their understanding or performance in a particular subject area. This occurs in the “practice phase” of learning and typically is not graded. Early drafts, first tries and practice assignments are examples of formative assessment. Another way to describe formative assessment is as “assessment for learning”. 

    Example: During English Language Arts class, the teacher conferences with students about their writing drafts, giving feedback to the students on strengths, weaknesses, and next steps to improve the current piece of writing

    What is summative assessment?

    If formative assessment is thought of as the “practice phase” of learning, then summative assessment can be thought of as the “game day”. In summative assessment activities students are expected to demonstrate their level of achievement in a particular area that has been a focus of instruction. Summative assessments are graded by the teacher. The grading is done in a way students understand and expect, often using a rubric or grading guide to arrive at letter grades, scores or achievement levels. Another way to describe summative assessment is as “assessment of learning.” 

    Example: During English Language Arts class, the teacher grades writing pieces according to a rubric, and students receive feedback as to their achievement on this piece of writing.

    What is the purpose of grading?

    Grading is more than a mark, score or label being applied to student work. It is a process where a teacher considers evidence of student progress in a particular area and then indicates through the “grade” how the student has done in comparison to a standard or goal. Teachers may grade using a rubric, a letter grade, a numerical grade or a written summary. Assignments, tests, exams, performances or demonstrations typically are graded after students have engaged in appropriate learning activities where they have practiced the skills being assessed. 

    Grading serves a number of purposes. For example, it allows students to see how close they are to meeting the goals they are working towards. Another important purpose of grading is to provide teachers a “snapshot” of how students and the class are doing in terms of meeting curricular goals. Grading also allows parents to get a sense of the progress their child is making in particular areas. Grading thus provides particular feedback to students, teachers, and parents. It is important to recognize that one grade on a particular sample of student work is not enough to draw firm conclusions about a student’s progress. Teachers consider multiple sources of evidence when they evaluate a student.

    How is the role of assessment changing?

    Teachers have always provided feedback to students in various ways and there is more a shift in assessment practices rather than a wholesale change. Assessment often has been seen as something that happens after a sequence of learning activities. Research indicates the more descriptive feedback given to students as they engage in daily work, the more progress they make. 

    The shift in assessment is to provide clear learning targets and as much instructive feedback to students as they work at learning new skills as possible. This feedback can come from teachers, classmates and the students engaging in self-assessment. Providing suggestions during the practice phase of learning is termed “formative” assessment and assessing student progress after the learning sequence is termed “summative” assessment. Formative assessment can really be considered a teaching and learning activity. Another shift in assessment is ensuring students understand how both formative and summative assessment can provide them important information about their learning and what the next steps in their learning should be. 

    Example: In an English Language Arts class, an assignment may have written notes through-out the written piece rather than a grade. The written feedback provides students with information to assist them in learning how to improve their writing.

    Why is it important to separate learning achievement from the assessment of personal/social development?

    Teachers create an environment where students learn and develop academic skills while investing a great deal of effort guiding the personal and social development of students. Students demonstrate their academic learning through engaging in the various assignments and tasks in class. Teachers consider all the evidence of academic learning when they assess, evaluate, and report on the academic progress of a student. It is reflected in the learning achievement portion of the student progress reports. 

    Teachers also monitor how the student is meeting particular expectations on the personal and social development (PSD) section of the report. For example, it would not be accurate to remove marks from a student in math because of behaviours such as being late for class or having messy work. These behaviours are not related to the student’s ability in math and shouldn’t be reflected in the math evaluation, although these behaviours may interfere with student learning. The personal/social portion of the student progress report would indicate whether the student is meeting expectations or needs to develop in this area.

    How are criteria for learning determined?

    Teachers use Manitoba Education, Citizenship, and Youth curriculum documents to guide their instruction. The curriculum documents are designed with significant input from educators from all across the province who teach, coordinate, or supervise at the specific grade levels or subjects. The curriculum guides are written in an outcome-based format that focuses on the essential skills to be demonstrated by the student in each grade or subject. As described in the curriculum documents, teachers determine the needs of their own students in achieving the desired learning outcomes and plan accordingly. Teachers explain the learning goals or criteria to students in “student friendly” language that they can understand.

    Common Assessment Terminology

    As communication about your child's learning takes place, language used to describe the learning is critical. You will find below, some common language that is used in assesment with your child and in communicating to you. The list of common language will expand as the school year continues. 

    Grade: (Grading): A grade is the number reported at the end of a period as a summary statement of student performance. 

    Mark: A mark is the number, letter, or score given to a test or 

    Outcomes: Outcomes are descriptions of the knowledge and skills that students are expected to know and are able to do at the completion of a course or a unit of study. 

    Rubric: A rubric is a fixed scale with a specific set of criteria that describes what performance should look like at each point on the scale. Usually a rubric indicates between three and five levels of achievement. If bridging between levels is added, the scale stretches from 5 to 9 levels.