If students, or their parents, wait anxiously for their first report card each year to know how they are doing, there is something seriously wrong. Report cards should simply be a formal confirmation of what everyone already knows because they have been getting informative feedback from their teacher and self-assessing throughout the term.
Assessment and evaluation are not synonyms. Assessment is the gathering of information about what students know and are learning, and how and what they are thinking. It is descriptive, not judgmental, and is intended to provide feedback to the teacher and the student. Assessment should be continuous and interwoven with instruction. Evaluation is a judgment, based on the comparison of assessment information to an expected standard, about the quality of a student’s demonstrated learning. It occurs periodically for the purposes of formal reporting. Evaluation serves a purpose but it does little to benefit learning.
Assessment takes many forms, beginning with the moment to moment observations that a teacher makes about student thinking as they interact with them and also includes review of assignments and marking of quizzes and tests. The things that teachers notice in day-to-day interaction with students provide the richest source of information and the most useful one for purposes of feedback that the teacher can use to adjust the pace and content of instruction, and that the student can use to better understand his or her learning and how to improve it. Planning for instruction should include frequent opportunities for teachers to informally assess student thinking and for students to self-assess. Quizzes and tests have a role to play but are inadequate on their own.
Embedded assessment and feedback is an essential part of instruction. If instruction were simply one-way it could be done using a video by a skilled lecturer. The professionalism of teaching comes in creating interactive learning activities that adapt to student responses and thus serve the unique learning abilities and needs of the particular learners in the class. Computers can deliver great lectures, but they are not yet capable of the keen observation, informed intuition and tactful guidance that a skilled teacher can provide in interaction with students.
Continuous descriptive, constructive and encouraging feedback to students, both formal and informal, is the reporting that really benefits learning, not the report card. That should be merely a consolidation and confirmation of what has already been said.
The change from assessment of learning to assessment for learning is happening across Canada. If you are making this change, or if your child’s teacher is making this change, tell me how its going and what you find works. Or perhaps you don’t agree with this change. If not, tell me why.