Notes from our Making Connections Conference 2017
Plenary Panel: Assessment and Reporting
Sam Sellar: co-author of “Globalizing educational accountabilities: Testing regimes and rescaling governance”
Norah Marsh: CEO of Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO)
Ian Pettigrew: Director, Curriculum and Assessment, Ontario Teachers’ Federation
Moderator: Annie Kidder: Executive Director, People for Education
Measurement and big data are in the education news a lot. Just this summer, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation passed a motion urging provincial teachers’ federations to boycott international PISA tests. Data from measurement can be used to rank schools, but it can also provide detailed information to help target areas of need, understand inequities, and know more about our students and staff.
The goal of this panel is to “unpack” some of the rhetoric around measurement. Is there a measurement/assessment “sweet spot”? How can we ensure that we have all the information we need about our students without creating unintended consequences, or narrow policy responses?
Introduction from Annie Kidder
Click the panelists names to see notes from their presentations
- Debate about testing is dichotomized- people either for or against
- Complicated set of issues
- “Datafication”- growth of testing in education
- describing process of assigning numbers to objects and events
- important to remember that we are experiencing intensification of a very old human activity
- but data can be misused, especially by people in power
- data are “not yet facts”; they are rhetorical
- facts only emerge when there is some consensus about the data
- biggest controversies in schools: what counts?
- Are schools/teachers/students, doing what matters?
- Must think about what is lost if we reject measurement
- We have reached a point where ranking/measurement of school performance has created a type of “global race” for the best schools
- Large-scale assessment can be used:
- Define and monitor what “counts”
- Create systems of rewards and sanctions
- Justify the need for change
- We can debate
- The ability to meaningfully assign numbers to education
- Rationality of data use (misuse)
- Negative consequences of data
- Ask: what kinds of large-scale assessments do we WANT in our schools?
- Want opportunities for all students to achieve at a higher level
- Having large-scale assessment makes a difference
- Not just EQAO; other data sources are also important
- After 20 years, important to modernize EQAO
- Changing expectations of what it means to be successful
- They do research and develop partnerships
- Research is important for creating research-based, well-informed policies
- Provincial assessment is what we are most known for, but the research we do is a big part of our work
- Large-scale assessmentsà when we think of students in our school, is it just about achievement, or are we looking at the whole child?
- We need to be aware, as we modernize EQAO, that for some, EQAO does cause stress
- Stress & distress often come from feelings of lack of controlà we could use technology to leverage greater teacher voice in context of assessment; and provide student voice
- Students need to see themselves reflected in the materials used
- When we are thinking of what is important to measure, we shouldn’t think of different areas as in competition with each other, they work together
- Hopes that we provide opportunities to consider all these self-needs (physical, cognitive, emotional, social) as interconnected. One can’t come at the expense of the others
- Large scale assessments can help us understand what students are feeling
- Huge possibilities in terms of how we assess their sense of belonging
- Came to EQAO because she wants to find more common ground around assessments; and make them more valuable in terms of equity lens
- Need to measure some academic criteria, but can do more, there is room to think how we can support assessment in other areas
- Good information can be garnered through questionnaires
- Assessment & evaluation, the teacher’s role, and implications of high scale performance tests
- We do believe in evidence-based research
- Assessment & evaluation – helpful to distinguish b/w the terms
- Assessments – ongoing processes; gathering and interpreting evidence of student learning (where they are? Where to go? How to get there?)
- Evaluation – process of judging; assigning value to quality of student learning
- Overarching principal is improving student learning
- Teachers are key agents in this
- No doubt that assessment & evaluation are valuable
- Teachers continually make decisions about students – through observations, conversations, artifacts of student learning
- Regularly communicate these findings
- Schools and classrooms have huge load; backpacks of teachers/adults not getting lighter
- Ever-changing and diverse needs of students
- EQAO scores have big media impact; pressure to increase scores is real
- Collateral impact in those grades – neglect other subjects/tasks with looming EQAO
- “we gotta raise those scores”- might ignore microclimate of classrooms and community
- think of what positive assessment feels like for you? Probably not large-scale assessments
- Teachers are learners too
- Stakes are high for public education; we don’t need to rely on high stakes testing to meet our goals
- Our students are more than grades/scores, or as one student said, “I am more than a dot on a chart”
Moderator Question: How do we get a balance between the important things Ian described – the complexity of work that happens INSIDE classrooms, and the public desire to know and understand what is going on in the education system?
- SAM: no one type of assessment will satisfy; balance is not choosing one kind of assessment over another
- NORAH: don’t underestimate academic importance; are there ways we can report that can recognize that this is just a slice among other pieces?
Moderator Question: Is it necessary to test every student?
- NORAH: if we want to be JUST about accountability; not necessary to test every student. Student success & equity comes out of testing every student
- IAN: we have evidence & data – we have report cards; informal settings can allow you to share those through interviews
Moderator Question: There are all these other competencies that are important (aside from numeracy and literacy) – mental health, citizenship skills etc. Are there ways to test them? Dangers? Possibilities?
- SAM: There are risks of course, but worthwhile to expand what is tested
- NORAH: challenging for EQAO; tension in our society to have transparent info; once we have that data it is not the end of it; we need to ask more questions
- IAN: it is NOT more testing that is needed in other areas of the curriculum. What won’t get done as a result of preparation for more tests?