Schools aim to engage and inform by revamping assessments

Parents will be getting more detail about how their children are doing through report cards with the new B.C. curriculum this year.

Grade Two student Mason Russell takes part in a reading assessment at Suwilaawks Community School. Assessment in the new B.C. curriculum is shifting to emphasize more classroom work and fewer test results.

Grade Two student Mason Russell takes part in a reading assessment at Suwilaawks Community School. Assessment in the new B.C. curriculum is shifting to emphasize more classroom work and fewer test results.

Parents will be getting more detail about how their children are doing through report cards this year, with special reports about how they are developing in the skills at the core of the new B.C. curriculum.

“Reporting and report cards really are based on the needs of the parents,” said Katherine McIntosh, superintendent of the Coast Mountains School District.

“The purpose is for parents to have a really good understanding, and for our learners to have a really good understanding of where they are at with their learning and where they need to go with it next. That’s the lens we are going to be looking at our report cards through: Are they most effective for our learners and families in terms of that communication?”

The new curriculum, officially adopted into all Grade K-9 classrooms this year and in a transition year for Grades 10-12, emphasizes skills, or core competencies, such as critical thinking and communication.

There is also a new push to develop students in trades and computer skills.

Thus, report cards will now include two detailed reports from teachers, one about a student’s core competencies and another about how they are doing in Career Education and Applied Design, Skills and Technologies.

Those courses are about trades and technology, and about the value of different careers, working together and communicating with others to build a strong society.

The provincial government started developing the new curriculum in November 2011, introduced it as a trial in Grades K-9 classrooms in 2015, (which became official and mandatory this year) and are introducing it as a trial for Grades 10-12 this year (official next fall).

As for assessment, McIntosh said they have an interim, short-term plan for this year (outlined here) and expect a finalized plan by the end of this year.

“They are looking at revamping how we do report cards… we are expecting at the end of this year for the ministry to be finished their full consultation with teachers and parents. They should by then have a new, finalized reporting order,” she said.

For the interim, the government is doing consultation to finalize how often and when they will report to parents, what that report will look like and include, and whether letter grades will continue to be used.


Letter grades

The government is still in consultation about whether to continue using letter grades, or to use a different method to explain performance.

The idea is to give more details about how a student is doing, explained Janet Meyer, school district director of instruction.

“If my child came home with a report card that had straight Bs all the way down… what does that really mean to me as a parent?” she asked.

“Wouldn’t it be great if parents had the specifics about where their child was at in math, or science or English, and where their learning needed to go?”

Currently, letter grades are not used for Grades K-3, and are optional in Grades 4-5, depending on what schools decide, but must be available for parents if they ask.

Uplands Elementary switched to written reports last year rather than letter grades, following extensive consultation, and Meyer said the change has been well received.

“Parents feel they have more knowledge about where their student is at, more specific information… And they feel the teachers know their kids better,” Meyer said.

For Grades 6-12, letter grades are still mandatory, and government consultation this year will determine if that continues.

Right now the government is giving schools flexibility to decide, and superintendent McIntosh said she hopes that continues.

She added that any changes will first involve a lot of dialogue and discussion.

“We would only move to a different reporting format with extensive consultation with parents,” she said.


Testing continues

The changes don’t mean that schools are ditching written tests and provincial exams altogether.

Grade 4 and Grade 7 students will continue taking province-wide foundation skills assessments, or FSAs.

Those standard assessments are the same across the province and show how students are doing in reading, writing and math. They are currently being redesigned to suit the new curriculum goals. This year the revamped tests will be tried out, and next year they should be finalized.

Under the new system, Grades 10-12 students will no longer take five provincial exams (Math 10, Science 10, Language Arts 10, Social Studies 11, Language Arts 12).

Instead they will take two provincial exams, one on literacy and the other on numeracy.

However, for students in Grades 11 and 12, graduation requirements will include a blend from the old and new system.

Grade 12 students this year will continue under the old requirements, and will not need to take the new tests.

“It’s status quo for them. They just have to stay the course,” Meyer said.

Grade 11 students will take only the new literacy test, as they have already taken three provincial exams in Grade 10.


Teachers assess

Even though testing will continue, the new curriculum still brings a very significant shift in student evaluation.

Grading will no longer lean as heavily on test results, rather they will be based more on classroom assessments which are done by teachers during the year.

That will include how students have shown their learning through projects, presentations, and discussions as well as tests.

When asked about the concern of grades becoming relative — based on a teacher’s opinion, rather than an impersonal, unbiased standard —  Meyer said she does not feel that is a concern.

“I have a great deal of respect for a teacher’s professional opinion about student learning and their ability to know where students are,” she said.


Giving ownership

Another push in the new curriculum is encouraging teachers to give more frequent and ongoing feedback to students.

The aim is for teachers to give feedback in a way that helps students understand how they are doing, and to encourage students to take responsibility.

Teacher Heidi Siebring from Uplands Elementary said she gives her students a rubric, or a continuum chart, which breaks down step-by-step what they need to learn so that they can gauge where they are at.

“It’s a feedback loop, so kids understand where they are and understand where they need to get to,” Siebring explained.

Catherine Eagles, a teacher at Suwilaawks Community School, said she has a similar system.

She will give her Grade 5/6 students a checklist of what they need to accomplish or understand, and they will check things off as they go along.

This way if students do well, they will feel more ownership, and if they do not finish everything and receive a poor grade, they will know why and again they will have to take ownership, Eagles explained.

“It teaches them responsibility… they cannot put the blame elsewhere,” she said.

Eagles said that prior to this, students rarely understood the big picture and why they received the grades they did.

“Grades were previously hidden from kids. It was up to the teacher… it was a mystery until they got their report card.”

Eagles said that she can also use those student checklists in the report cards, so that parents can see more clearly the reasons behind their children’s grades, and where they may need to work harder.