Task force wants change in student assessment practices

A special task force has determined a change in focus is needed for the way students are assessed in Nanaimo.

A special task force has determined a change in focus is needed for the way students are assessed in Nanaimo.

Chris Southwick, assistant superintendent and a member of the Assessment and Accountability Task Force, said the group met for the past year and a half to discuss how students are assessed.

The group, which includes teachers, administrators and a parent representative, determined the district needs to focus more on formative assessment.

That practice directs future instruction and can include conversations with the student, presentations or other hands-on activities or formal tests to determine if the individual is learning the material and what areas the teacher needs to focus on in future instruction.

The other type of assessment – summative – is testing to see what the students have learned.

“In the old days, we used to pay more attention to the summative assessments – information at the end of something,” said Southwick. “We agree we need the summative assessment as well, but we need to focus more on formative.”

The latest research shows that formative assessment is effective because it provides teachers with information about where to go next and how to help the students get better, she said.

And while some schools are focused on it now, others are not quite as far along, added Southwick.

Trustees approved the task force’s recommendations that there be a district-wide focus on formative assessment and that resources be provided so the task force can continue to meet.

Next is figuring out how this would roll out in schools and developing an education strategy, including newsletters, parent forums and in-service sessions for teachers, so that people understand what the district is trying to do.

Justin Green, second vice-president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association and a member of the task force, said the culture of the system needs to change to ensure formative assessment is the new priority.

“There is a lot of pressure to have the end result,” he said. “For educators to start embracing this, there has to be a lot of time in place. Getting educators to sit down and have that conversation is an important aspect of us moving forward.”

Research has shown this type of assessment can double the speed of learning for students, said Green.