Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Assessment and Provincial Achievement Tests


This was written by Don Wielinga who is an elementary principal in central Alberta.

by Don Wielinga

This Is What I Think:

"Assessment for Learning is the ongoing exchange of information between students and teachers about student progress towards clearly specified learning goals for the purpose of improving learning and informing instruction." Adapted fromAlberta Assessment Consortium, 2005.

PATs measure a narrow set of skills, which can be easily be memorized, and measured by multiple choice questions. They do not inform day to day instruction and do not support current educational research on assessment for and of learning. Also, few questions challenge the intellectual capacity of students, "dumbing down learning".

The tests reflect students' abilities on one day as opposed to providing an accurate portrait of a year's worth of leaning. Other issues which concern me is the stress it causes for students, that the PATs assess only a portion of of the curriculum and the results are not available until months later, hence they are of no use in the area of assessment for and of learning.

Recent research and practice in education has raised awareness about the impact of classroom assessment practises or student learning. More and more teachers are looking to explore and develop strategies in classroom assessment that improve teaching practices and student learning. As a result, classroom assessment and reporting practices look very different today from the practices that parents remember from their school days. Again, the practice of PATs do not support our current classroom practices and beliefs of assessment.

The word "assess" comes from the Latin root "assidere" which means "to sit beside". The phrase Assessment for Learning turns day to day assessment into a teaching and learning process that enhances student learning, unlike PATs. Teachers work alongside students to assess their learning as they move through the learning outcomes in the curriculum.

Assessment for Learning strategies are used in the classroom by both students and teachers in order to gather information on their learning. These strategies provide teachers, students, and parents with valuable information about student progress, and the next steps required for growth and improvement. The PATs are only a "snapshot" of student progress and do nothing for inform teaching and learning.

In summary, good assessment practices do the following:

  • Increase student success when the students have clear learning targets.
  • When students are involved in their own learning they are more likely to understand what is expected of them, assess prior knowledge, take ownership of their leaning and provide information to their teachers on how to adjust their teaching.
  • Improve communication for parents about student achievement in relation to the learner outcomes from the Alberta Program of Studies.

Provincial Achievement Tests do none of the above!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this article. As a former grade three teacher and principal, I have never had a problem with the PAT test as an assessment. In fact, as far as tests go, it is well constructed and I would use the results to help me to know where students were at and inform my own teaching. It could be one piece of a much larger puzzle. I would often use past exams (when we were still able to) in my assessment for learning, as they often involved multi-step problem solving (especially in math) that led to rich discussion and learning for students. However, I do have a problem with how they are used by the larger system. Rather than being a piece of the puzzle, they are viewed as the entire puzzle picture, which is definitely what Don is arguing. There are much better ways to promote responsibility not accountability for schools. Thanks for sharing this article Joe!

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