Assessing Learning for Reporting Purposes in Public Schools
The Ministry of Education's policy document, Growing Success: Assessment and Evaluation in Ontario Schools (2010a, p. 6), states that "the primary purpose of student assessment and evaluation is to improve student learning". Assessment for the purpose of improving student learning is seen as "assessment for learning" and "assessment as learning". Evaluation for the purpose of public statements such as report cards is referred to as "assessment of learning".
The Ministry's current policy states that all curriculum expectations must be accounted for in instruction and assessment but, importantly, it emphasizes that "evaluation focuses on student achievement of the overall expectations" (2010a). The overall expectations are recognized as broad in nature. Teachers are to use their professional judgement "to determine which specific expectations should be used to evaluate achievement of overall expectations, and which ones will be accounted for in instruction and assessment but not necessarily evaluated" (2010a).
In inquiry-based learning classrooms, teachers need to use their professional judgement to balance these purposes in accordance with their goals and beliefs about how students learn best. For instance, it would be counterintuitive to establish a responsive, student-centred, and developmental learning program that relies primarily on quantitative assessment tools when assigning a grade (e.g., test scores). "Teachers obtain assessment information through a variety of means, which may include formal and informal observations, discussions, learning conversations, questioning, conferences, homework, tasks done in groups, demonstrations, projects, portfolios, developmental continua, performances, peer and self-assessments selfreflections, essays, and tests" (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010a, p. 28).
Student participation in assessment - assessment as learning; assessment for learning
Inquiry-based learning environments are clearly weighted in favour of assessment as learning and assessment for learning since these types of assessments are effective aids for deepening students' understanding, and encouraging student involvement in the learning and assessment process.
One of the 12 Knowledge Building Principles (See Table 1) calls for Embedded, Concurrent, and Transformative Assessment in the inquiry process, which suggests that students should play an important role in assessing their own learning and that of the entire learning community. The beauty of Inquiry is that from the beginning of the learning process, students are instrumental in establishing learning goals and success criteria for themselves through the very questions that they ask. For example, when a student says, that student is stating a learning goal.
Teachers in inquiry-based learning environments often engage students in regular Knowledge Building Discourse for the express purpose of finding out what they know or do not know (i.e., assessment). During these kinds of conversations, the students and teacher discuss questions such as: Student contributions to this kind of discourse serve as authentic forms of student self-assessment. With teacher guidance, these can help form the basis for different kinds of learning tasks or assessment tools such as rubrics, surveys, homework assignments, group projects, etc.
For example, in Vessna Romero's Grade 4 math class, the students wanted to find out how much waste their school contributes to the landfill on a given day. They decided to design and carry out a school-wide waste audit in order to learn the answer to this question. Guided by Vessna's skilful questioning (e.g., ), the class decided that they would need to use data management skills to graph their findings. These graphs served as powerful assessment pieces for Vessna, the Grade 4 students, and even the entire school community (See Vessna's Story for a full description).
Using "I can" statements as self-assessment toolsAn "I can" statement is a simple, open-ended selfassessment tool, where the students state or write what they feel they are able to do in a particular learning domain (Bilash, 2009). Some examples might be:
"I can" statements can be used daily, weekly, bi-weekly, at the end of an inquiry, or ideally, a combination of these. For instance, before leaving class at the end of an inquiry period, a teacher may ask his or her students to individually complete one or two "I can" statements. Collecting and analyzing these cards enables this teacher to glean information about each of his or her students' knowledge, misconceptions, and sense of selfefficacy in a particular learning area. Moreover, these statements might also reveal a need for the teacher to review a particular concept with his or her class (Bilash, 2009).
Assessment of learning
Assessment of learning (e.g., report cards) is a reality in public schools for reasons of public accountability. Consequently, educators often grapple with questions such as:
In Ontario, assessment and evaluation occurs on a criterion-referenced basis. That is, teachers assess and evaluate student learning according to success criteria assigned to the following four levels of achievement (Ministry of Education, 2010a):
On their own, the qualifiers of these achievement levels (e.g., "some effectiveness") do not clearly help students understand why they have been evaluated at a "Level 2", for example. While a teacher may know exactly what constitutes the achievement of this level, students may be left wondering what "some effectiveness" refers to. Similarly, parents/caregivers probably do not understand what the four achievement levels mean unless they have professional experience in education. Therefore, to ensure fair and transparent evaluation, the four achievement levels are not intended to be applied, verbatim, to evaluations of student work. Rather, these levels serve as guides for teachers as they use their professional judgement to create success criteria for, and with students, that qualify what it means to achieve Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4.
Establishing Success Criteria: ICE Rubrics (Ideas, Connections, Extensions)
How do teachers develop success criteria for assessment tools that serve the goals of assessment for, as, and of learning? Fostaty-Young and Wilson (2000) developed the ICE Rubric as a generalized assessment method for use across various types/ages of students, subjects, and levels of schooling, for all three purposes of assessment. Their method evolved in response to educators' growing awareness that assessments of how much a student had learned were not the same as how well a student had grown in his or her understanding, and that students who knew many facts were not necessarily the ones who accomplished the best learning (Fostaty-Young & Wilson, 2000).
ICE places student learning on a continuum by describing the quality and depth of a student's understanding (from superficial to deep) at different phases of development. Table 8 details the characteristics of learning for each of these phases.
Teachers can use the characteristics in Table 8 as basic guiding principles when designing ICE rubrics for specific assessment contexts, both formal (projects, assignments) and informal (KB Circles, small group interaction, Inquiry Lab Book entries). Fostaty-Young and Wilson (2000) also encourage teachers, especially in the junior grades, to describe the ICE Framework process to their students and give the class opportunities to create ICE rubrics together, making the purpose and goals of assessment that much more meaningful for learners.
With the guiding principles in Table 8 in mind, teachers can involve students in the creation of assessment tools by asking them probing questions such as:
The ideas shared by the class can be used to create an assessment tool such as the one shown in Figure 7. Students can use this rubric as a self-assessment tool to evaluate their own work. Using "I can" statements and student-friendly language keeps the evaluation experience a positive one.
The success criteria described beneath each phase of the ICE continuum clarify (both for the teacher and learner) the student's level of understanding, as well as his or her strengths and areas for improvement. The criteria are intended to help learners move forward in their growth, and describe the specific learning processes that students are encouraged to demonstrate. Of primary concern is what the student does with the content rather than on the possession of content alone (Strong & Fostaty Young, 2007). See table 22 for another example.