In October of 2010, CEA, in conjunction with colleagues from SCOPE (Stanford Centre for Opportunity Policy in Education), hosted an event entitled Achieving Equity through Innovation: A Canada-United States Colloquium. This two-day event provided an important platform for the exchange of ideas, insights, and strategies on how to best improve the learning and teaching conditions in classrooms. From this event emerged a broad agreement that equity and more precisely, the specific conditions needed in our societies to ensure equity, required further reflection and development.
To paraphrase an OECD report in 2007 about equity in western nations, addressing these challenges requires the creation of three specific orientations: policy, practice, and resources. Much has been written about policy development and how effective such policies have been in the past. But where the work really needs to be enhanced is in the area of classroom practice. During the colloquium, delegates were provided with specific examples, from both sides of the border, of “equity-based” classroom practices, how they were initiated, and the results they generated. The prevalent objective of these initiatives was to reduce achievement gaps in classrooms and throughout educational systems.
The colloquium served as an excellent platform for CEA to deepen the important relationship that exists between creating a more equitable and fairer educational environment and emerging innovative classroom practice and assessment. As most readers will know, CEA has been actively involved in the What did you do in school today? research focusing on deepening the intellectual engagement of students. Added to this work, the ongoing research from the Youth Confidence in Learning and the Future initiative and the Teachers’ Aspirations Project continue to inject other spheres of educational activities that play a crucial role in the entire equity discussion.
Adapting classroom practices and encouraging deeper links between the school and the community can and do play vital roles in the creation of an equitable educational system. One of the most important, yet less discussed classroom activities is in the area of assessment. Evaluation rubrics are the driving force behind pedagogical practice in classrooms and play a significant role in the development of a child, regardless of socio-economic or cultural backgrounds. In simpler terms, assessment drives instruction.
Formative assessment has been identified as critical to shifting classroom teaching practice and truly addressing the needs of all children in the classroom. It is an approach that is much more labour-intensive than the more prevalent summative formats. However, such an investment in ensuring that all children learn “better and deeper” will definitely pay dividends for society, in both short and long term contexts. For this reason, CEA will soon begin further inquiries into how effective assessment models can be developed and integrated into Canadian schools. Our current research has now demonstrated that children know how to “do school and tests”, and they do them quite well. But we also know that once they leave the classroom environment, they face a new learning curve. Success in the workforce and in life depends on meeting expectations and demonstrating skills that were not the focus of classrooms and assessments.
We owe all of our students, regardless of background, a better fate than preparing them to be successful in 1991 assessment measures, and not in 2011’s realities.