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Senior 1 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: Senior 1
English Language Arts Classroom Assessment - Part 1

Classroom assessment is an integral part of English language arts instruction. Assessment is the "systematic process of gathering information about what a student knows, is able to do, and is learning to do" (Manitoba Education and Training, Reporting on Student Progress and Achievement, 1997, 5). The primary purpose of classroom assessment is not to evaluate and classify student performance, but to inform teaching and improve learning, and to monitor student progress in achieving year-end learning outcomes and standards.

Classroom assessment is broadly defined as any activity or experience that provides information about student learning. Teachers learn about student progress not only through formal tests, examinations, and projects, but also through moment-by-moment observation of students in action. They often conduct assessment through instructional activities.

Much of students’ learning is internal. To assess students’ language arts knowledge, skills and strategies, and attitudes, teachers require a variety of tools and approaches. They ask questions, observe students engaged in a variety of learning activities and processes, and examine student work in progress. They also engage students in peer-assessment and self-assessment activities. The information that teachers and students gain from assessment activities informs and shapes what happens in the classroom; assessment always implies that some action follows.

"The Cycle of Planning, Teaching, and Assessing" diagram found on p. 22 of the Senior 1 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation (1997) portrays a cycle of planning, teaching, and assessing that many teachers have found useful.


Planning for Assessment

Since assessment is an integral part of instruction, teachers do not plan it at the end of a unit. They select assessment purposes, approaches, and tools before choosing instructional strategies.

In developing assessment tasks and methods, teachers determine

  • what they are assessing
  • why they are assessing
  • how the assessment information will be used
  • who will receive the assessment information
  • what assessment activities or tasks will allow students to demonstrate their learning in authentic ways

"The Assessment Purposes and Audiences" chart, found on p. 23 of the Senior 1 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation (1997), shows how teachers assess for a variety of purposes and audiences.


Characteristics of Effective Assessment

Effective assessment assists learning. It helps focus effort on implementing strategies to facilitate learning both inside and outside the classroom. Effective assessment

  • is congruent with instruction
  • uses a wide range of tools and methods
  • is based on authentic tasks
  • is ongoing and continuous
  • is based on criteria that students know and understand
  • is a collaborative process involving students
  • focuses on what students have learned and can do

A detailed discussion of these seven characteristics of effective assessment follows.

Effective Assessment Is Congruent with Instruction

Assessment requires teachers to be aware continually of the purpose of instruction: What do I want my students to learn? What can they do to show that they have learned it?

How teachers assess depends on what they are assessing—whether they are assessing declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge, or attitudes and habits of mind.

  • Declarative knowledge: Declarative knowledge is the most straightforward dimension of learning to measure using traditional tools—if teachers wish to measure fact-based recall. The purpose of fostering literacy, however, is not met if students simply memorize the declarative knowledge related to language arts; what is more important is whether students understand and are able to apply this knowledge. It is not as important, for example, that students reproduce a definition of metaphor, as that they understand the purposes and effects of metaphors, that they respond to and interpret metaphors they encounter in texts, and that they use metaphors with ease to enrich their own writing, speech, and visual representations. The challenge teachers face is to design tools that test the application of declarative knowledge.
  • Procedural knowledge: Tools that are designed to test declarative knowledge cannot effectively assess skills, strategies, and processes. For example, rather than trying to infer student processes by looking at final products, teachers assess procedural knowledge by observing students in action, by discussing their strategies with them in conferences and interviews, and by gathering data from student reflections such as learning logs.
  • Attitudes and habits of mind: Attitudes and habits of mind cannot be assessed directly. They are implicit in what students do and say. Assessment tools typically describe the behaviours that reflect the attitudes and habits of literate individuals. They identify the attitudes and habits of mind that enhance language learning and use, and provide students with the means to reflect on their own internal processes. Rather than assigning global marks for class participation, for example, teachers assess outcomes related to students’ effective contribution to large and small groups.

Assessment is intended to inform students of the programming emphases and to help them focus on important aspects of learning. If teachers assess only the elements that are easiest to measure, students may focus only on those things. For example, if language arts courses place a high value on collaboration, creativity, and divergent thinking (outcomes that may be more difficult to measure), then assessment tools and processes must reflect those values. What and how teachers assess inform students what they consider important in learning.

Effective Assessment Is Based on Authentic Tasks

Assessment tasks should be authentic and meaningful—tasks worth mastering for their own sake rather than tasks designed simply to demonstrate student proficiency for teachers and others. Through assessment, teachers discover whether students can use knowledge, processes, and resources effectively to achieve worthwhile purposes. Therefore, teachers design tasks that replicate the context in which knowledge will be applied in the world beyond the classroom.

Authentic language arts tasks employ the forms used by a wide range of people (e.g., journalists, filmmakers, poets, novelists, publicists, speakers, technical writers, and academics). As often as possible, students write, speak, or represent their ideas for real audiences and for real purposes. In developing assessment tasks, teachers may consider providing students with the resources people use when performing the same language tasks in real-life situations.

Authentic assessment tasks are not only tests of the information students possess, but also of the way their understanding of a subject has deepened, and of their ability to apply learning. They demonstrate to students the relevance and importance of learning. Performance-based tests are also a way of consolidating student learning. The perennial issue about "teaching to the test" is of less concern if tests are authentic assessments of student knowledge, skills and strategies, and attitudes.

Effective Assessment Uses a Wide Range of Tools and Methods

Assessment in language arts must recognize the complexity and holistic nature of language learning. To compile a complete profile of each student’s progress, teachers gather data using many different means over numerous occasions.

Student profiles may involve both students and teachers in data gathering and assessment. The following chart identifies areas for assessment and some assessment instruments, tools, and methods.

Data-Gathering Profile
Observation of Processes Observation of Products and Performances
Teacher:
  • checklists
  • conferences and interviews
  • anecdotal comments and records
  • reviews of drafts and revisions
  • oral presentations
  • rubrics and marking scales
  • senior 1 standards of student performance
Students:
  • reflection logs
  • self-assessment instruments and tools (e.g. checklists, rating scales, progress charts)
  • peer-assessment instruments and tools (e.g. peer conference records, rating scales)
  • Senior 1 standards of student performance
Teacher:
  • written assignments
  • demonstrations
  • presentations
  • seminars
  • projects
  • portfolios
  • student journals and notebooks
  • checklists
  • rubrics and marking scales
  • Senior 1 standards of student performance
Students:
  • reflection logs
  • self-assessment instruments and tools
  • peer-assessment instruments and tools
  • portfolio analysis
  • Senior 1 standareds of student performance

Classroom Tests

Division and Provincial Standards Tests

Teacher:
  • paper-and-pencil tests (e.g. teacher-made tests, unit tests, essay-style tests)
  • performance tests and simulations
  • rubrics and marking scales
  • Senior 1 standards of student performance
Students:
  • reflection logs
  • self-assessment instrucments and tools
  • Senior 1 standards of student performance
Teacher marker:
  • rubrics and marking scales
  • Senior 1 standards of student performance

Effective Assessment Is Based on Criteria that Students Know and Understand

Assessment criteria must be clearly established and made explicit to students before an assignment or test so that students can focus their efforts. In addition, whenever possible, students need to be involved in developing assessment criteria.

Students should also understand clearly what successful accomplishment of each proposed task looks like. Models of student work from previous years and other exemplars assist students in developing personal learning goals. Such models may be of particular value to students working at and above the level of the standards of performance.

Each assessment task should test only those learning outcomes that have been identified to students. This means, for example, that reading tests need to be devised and marked to gather information about students’ reading comprehension, not their ability to express ideas effectively in writing.

Effective Assessment Is a Collaborative Process

Development of Assessment Criteria

Stages for developing asssessment criteria may include

  • initial brainstorming (What are the qualities of an effective presentation of product of this sort?)
  • viewing or examining models
  • referring to the standards of performancethat apply to this task
  • refining the assessment criteria
  • prioritizing the criteria and, if desired, assigning values

The ultimate purpose of assessment is to enable students to assess themselves. The gradual increase of student responsibility for assessment is part of developing students’ autonomy as lifelong learners. Assessment should decrease, rather than foster, students’ dependence on teachers’ comments for direction in learning and on marks for validation of their accomplishments.

Assessment enhances students’ metacognition. It helps them make judgements about their own learning, and provides them with information for goal setting and self-monitoring.

Teachers increase student responsibility for assessment by

  • requiring students to select the products and performances to demonstrate their learning
  • involving students in developing assessment criteria whenever possible (This clarifies the goals of a particular assignment and provides students with the vocabulary to discuss their own work.)
  • involving students in peer assessment, informally through peer conferences and formally through using checklists
  • having students use tools for reflection and self-assessment at every opportunity (e.g., self-assessment checklists, learning logs, identification and selection of goals, and self-assessment of portfolio items)
  • establishing a protocol for students who wish to challenge a teacher-assigned mark (Formal appeals are valuable exercises in persuasive writing, and provide opportunities for students to examine their performance in light of the assessment criteria.)

Effective Assessment Focuses on What Students Have Learned and Can Do

Assessment must be equitable; it must offer opportunities for success to every student. Effective assessment demonstrates the knowledge, skills and strategies, and attitudes of each student and the progress the student is making, rather than simply identifying deficits in learning.

To assess what students have learned and can do, teachers need to use a variety of strategies and approaches:

  • Use a wide range of instruments to assess the multi-dimensional expressions of each student’s learning.
  • Provide students with opportunities to learn from feedback and to practise, recognizing that not every assignment will be successful nor will it become part of a summative evaluation.
  • Examine several pieces of student work in assessing any particular learning outcome or standard to ensure that the data collected are valid bases for making generalizations about stuent learning.
  • Develop complete student profiles by using information from both outcome-referenced assessment, which compares a student’s performance to pre-determined criteria or standards, and self-referenced assessment, which compares a student’s performance to his or her prior performance.
  • Avoid using assessment for purposes of discipline or classroom control. Ryan, Connell, and Deci (1985) found that assessment that is perceived as a tool for controlling student behaviour, a way of meting out rewards and punishments rather than providing feedback on student learning, reduces student motivation.

Students are sometimes assigned a mark of zero for incomplete work. Averaging a zero into the student’s mark, however, means the mark no longer communicates accurate information about the student’s achievement of language arts outcomes and standards.

  • Unfinished assignments signal personal or motivational problems that need to be addressed in appropriate ways.
  • Allow students, when appropriate and possible, to choose how they will demonstrate their competence.
  • Use assessment tools appropriate for assessing individual and unique products, processes, and performances.

Effective Assessment Is Ongoing and Continuous

Assessment that is woven into daily instruction offers students frequent opportunities to gain feedback, to modify their learning approaches and methods, and to observe their progress. Teachers provide informal assessment by questioning students and offering comments. They also conduct formal assessments at various stages of a project or unit of study.

Continuous assessment provides ongoing opportunities for teachers to review and revise instruction, content, process emphases, and resources.

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