Relationship Status: It’s Complicated!

Pat Lore: Reflections at the End of a 9-Year Secondment

Have you ever felt like you were in a relationship that just wasn’t working as well as you wanted it to? That wasn’t helping you live your best life? 

I have, and that relationship is with assessment.

I’m closing in on the end of my 9-year secondment with AAC. Those 9 years provided me with a priceless opportunity to reflect on classroom assessment and how it impacts our role as educators. As well, I’ve had plenty of time to consider how assessment is perceived by leaders, teachers, students, and parents.

My experience with AAC, working with amazing teachers and leaders across the province, leads me to believe that, in general, we don’t have the healthiest relationship with assessment. Our current predicament has shone a light on that. Right now, the only assessment question we should be asking ourselves is, “What do I need to know about my students so I can keep their learning moving forward?” Instead, it feels like we’re spending too much energy asking, “How will I get enough evidence to assign grades?”

Another massive concern right now is about cheating and how to prevent it. It’s interesting to me, and a bit sad. Why are some students “cheating” on tasks and assessments? Why are parents helping them, or in some cases doing the work themselves? We’ve already established that, for once in our lives, the grade on the work doesn’t really matter. Instead of bemoaning the fact that this little secret has been shared with students and their families (“Now how am I going to make them do any work?”) maybe we should be celebrating! We have been given the perfect moment in time to rethink our relationship with assessment.

So what happens when we suddenly find ourselves in a world where marks and grades have lost their currency? We need to help students and their families realize that the true value in assessment, whatever its form, is the feedback it provides, to teachers and students alike, about where students are in their learning and what the next steps might be. Assessment helps us help our students. It’s about nurturing and supporting learners, not weighing and measuring them. And students need to be partners in the process.

At the same time, we need to critically reflect on the work we ask of our students. Is it meaningful? Authentic? Intriguing? Purposeful? If students don’t see or understand the value of the work, how can we expect them to care about doing it, let alone doing it well?

After my extended absence, I’m heading back to the classroom next year. I’m excited and apprehensive in almost equal measure. You may have noticed that this post is long on questions and short on answers. It’s because this work is so challenging, and I know for sure that I don’t have all the answers. I wonder what my own students would have said if I had ever thought to ask them what assessment was for. Or why it was important. Or even what it looked like. I’m afraid they would have answered that assessment is about me passing judgment on them. And while it may be true that sometimes assessment serves that purpose, it’s not what should ever matter most.

We’ve been given an opportunity to set aside grades for this moment in time. Let’s use this opportunity to build a different, and better, relationship with assessment!

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