EDUCATIONAL researchers endorsed a series of small evaluations in K-12 classrooms rather than few high-stakes tests — both amid the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future — during a panel about fair assessment this week.
On Tuesday night, the University of Manitoba’s education faculty hosted a virtual event that featured Canadian educators with expertise in fair, ethical and effective evaluation practices.
Topics ranged from culturally-responsive evaluations to assessment methods that empower students rather than simply attach their value to a percentage grade.
Evaluations can both support and enhance learning, but they can also contribute to inequities, said Martha Koch, an assistant education professor at U of M, in her opening moderator remarks.
With that in mind, the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network, which Koch is involved with, released considerations for how to grade students during the pandemic.
The suggestions, which were published in the spring, recommend ensuring all students have equitable learning opportunities, clear communication, and for early- and middle-years teachers, report cards only with written comments and no grades.
Educational researcher Robin Tierney, one of the forum panelists, said she feels there should be no traditional report cards this year. The pandemic, she said, could even be an opportunity to radically reconsider how education systems work to better serve all students.
"The (pandemic learning) process is extremely dependent on the time and resources parents have available so the inequities that have become apparent are going to require a whole lot of flexibility when it comes to assessing learning, not just during the pandemic, but for some time to come," said Tierney, a part-time professor of education at the University of Ottawa.
For Tierney, fair assessment means clear instructions, giving students multiple and varied types of evaluations, observing patterns over time instead of one-shot tests, frequent feedback, and giving students choice in what they want to learn.
Panellist Theresa Papp, who teaches Indigenous studies at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, echoed many of the same sentiments, adding students succeed when teachers show authentic caring for them and involve them.
Drawing on first-hand experience with grading high schoolers in an online classroom this year, teacher panelist Katie White added she’s found self-assessment to be a successful tool.
Pandemic or not, partnering with families and giving students lots of feedback, with time to correct their errors, is also key in helping students succeed, said White, an executive member of the Canadian Assessment for Learning Network.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.