History 2014

Quality Assessment for Learning International Symposium
April 8 – 12, 2014,
Fredericton, New Brunswick

Supporting Powerful Research and Practice: Background

As we consider formative and summative assessment from the research, policy, and professional learning perspective, it is clear that many positive changes have taken place since the first International gathering in Chester, England, in 2001. There are many successes to celebrate and new challenges to consider. Amongst the challenges emerging is the intersection of assessment in the service of learning and assessment of learning. In some jurisdictions this would be referred to as the interplay of formative and summative assessment.

While the impact of formative assessment (FA) on learning is well recognized, its definition has been re-examined in recent years as well as the real extent of its effect (Bennett, 2011; Taras, 2005). It now seems clear that the definition of FA should evolve beyond a mere opposition to summative assessment (SA) and that to qualify as formative, assessment must increase the odds that it will make a real difference in improving the decision process as to the best next step in student learning (Wiliam & Thomson, 2007). Such a capacity to make a difference in student learning needs not be a formative assessment monopoly and is also within the reach of summative assessment, although it might not be assessment’s primary purpose.

According to Good (2011, p. 4), there is value in both formative and summative assessment: “the challenge ahead of us is to put into practice the presumption that the label applied to an assessment is far less important than what is done with the information gathered.” Information gathered on student learning may serve different purposes whether it is to report on student learning – such as in SA – or support student learning as in FA. Consequently, Good (2011, p. 1) would rather use the expression ‘formative use of assessment information’ to emphasize the fact that FA is a process.

The capacity to use the information gathered on student learning appears to be a real challenge for teachers. For instance, Heritage, Kim, Vendlinski & Herman (2009) show that while teachers may agree on a student’s learning problem, they might not concur as to what is the best next step in their learning progression. Furthermore, as suggested by Herman, Osmundson & Silver (2010) “teachers need to develop skills not only to identify individual student learning needs, but also to respond to them.” These studies raise serious questions as to what can be done to improve teachers’ capacity to respond to student learning needs.

The increased reliance on interim testing in several American states is still another case where teachers are requested to act upon student results collected in the midst of a semester using some more or less elaborate form of external classroom assessment. While such interim assessment tools are claimed to be “formative,” Shepard (2005) raised several doubts as to their formative merit: “Knowing that a student performs poorly on an interim test is hardly a new insight because teachers almost always know who their low performing students are. For an interim test to be effective, it has to provide new information that is coherent and can feasibly be acted upon by the teacher” (p. 22).

Shepard’s remarks on interim assessment may also apply to summative assessment to some extent, unless something is done to gather information in a meaningful way for both teachers and students. Part of the issue of the summative-formative assessment distinction focuses on the extent to which summative and formative assessment uses or does not use assessment information to support student learning.

One may consider the summative-formative assessment relationship as a continuum where assessment information, on one side, is used essentially to account and report on student learning with no intention whatsoever to support learning, up to a point where reporting on student learning yields the way completely to the formative use of assessment information. Along such a continuum, mixed designs of assessment information processing may be used to report on a student’s learning progression and help to make appropriate decisions as to what can be done to move it forward.

The purpose of this Symposium was to examine the factors that limit the contribution of assessment information to support learning and how they impact on task and instructional design as well as student learning. To paraphrase Good (2011), we would say that this Symposium was concerned with the formative design of assessment information as well as its formative use. It did so by looking into what should be attended to in assessment and by anticipating what could be the benefits of a valuable integration of the two main purposes of processing assessment information: reporting and supporting student learning.

In this conference we invited attendees to challenge themselves and others to view and review the research, policy, practice, and professional learning with fresh eyes. One way to accomplish this is to pay attention to innovative research from assessment for learning as well as from other disciplines (psychology, sociology, epistemology, etc.). Another way is to revisit or ascertain our basic assumptions as to assessment for learning, its definition and its impact, in light of the most recent challenges and critiques of the actual models. How can we work towards ensuring that all we do from a classroom assessment perspective promotes the learning of students and the learning of those who work in support of students – teachers, school and system leaders, and community members?

Overview of Symposia 2014

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

After a First Nations welcome by Imelda Perley, a Maliseet elder, and greetings by Dr. Ann Sherman, Dean of Education, University of New Brunswick, the Symposium opened with a uniquely Canadian beginning as Dr. Roberta Bondar, Canadian astronaut and fabulous keynote speaker, joined us on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

During the first full day of the International Symposium – Wednesday, April 9, 2014 – country teams and delegates shared their most current work. Dr. Anne Davies and Dr. Ann Sherman hosted this portion of the event. All delegates engaged in powerful learning processes and conversations to deepen each other’s understandings of context and implications of everyone’s most current work.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thematic conversations occurred on Thursday, April 10, 2014 around major themes listed by OECD (2013) in Synergies for Better Learning under the leadership of Dr. Dany Laveault, For the purposes of our work, there are four major clusters:

  1. Self-assessment and Assessment as Learning (Student involvement in assessment) and self-regulation/co-regulation
  2. Assessment for Learning (AfL) and teacher professional judgment / Assessment for Learning (AfL) and theories of learning / Assessment for Learning (AfL) and learning equity issues
  3. Overcoming the challenge of implementation / Developing competencies for evaluation and assessment and for using feedback/
  4. Ensuring articulations within the evaluation and assessment framework / Aligning educational standards and student assessment

Delegates engaged in small group discussions related to each theme and considered the implications for policy development, professional learning, and research into classroom assessment. Doctoral students observed the discussions. Working groups reported to the larger group.

Friday, April 11, 2014

On Friday, April 11, 2014 International delegates continued meeting under the leadership of Dr. Dany Laveault, University of Ottawa, to finalize the work of the International Symposium on Assessment for Learning (2014) and made plans for ongoing international work. Then, Friday evening, Assessment for Learning: Canada in Conversation with the World began.

The Canadian Conference planning team would like to thank the University of New Brunswick, the Ministry of Education in NB, connect2learning.com, and the International Assessment Consortium.

Quality Assessment for Learning Canadian Symposium
April 8 – 12, 2014
Fredericton, New Brunswick

The Canadian Symposium (April 8 – 12, 2014) met under the leadership of Sandra Herbst, CEO of connect2learning. There were 36 delegates invited from key educational institutions including universities, national organizations, provincial Superintendent associations, ministries of education, and school districts from every province and territory. The Canadian delegates observed the first part of the International Symposium and then entered into dialogue regarding leadership in assessment from a pan-Canadian perspective. You can find out more information here

Assessment for Learning: Canada in Conversation with the World – Canadian Conference

On the fourth evening of the Symposium (Friday, April 11, 2014), an additional 250 conference participants attended a presentation by a panel of the international researchers entitled Assessment for Learning: Canada in Conversation with the World followed by a full day of presentations on Saturday, April 12th. This was a unique opportunity for teachers, principals, school district personnel, and pre-service teachers and their professors to attend sessions with the leading international researchers in the area of educational assessment. A total of 36 (all) of the international researchers participated in the final day-and-a-half for almost 250 conference participants. There were three plenary sessions: one in English, one in French, and one in both languages. All plenary sessions included translation to enable the attendance of both French and English speakers. There were ten concurrent sessions for attendees to select among.

All sessions focused on various aspects of assessment for learning. The international guests presented their most current research and provided opportunities for discussion with practitioners and researchers. This dialogue provided powerful opportunities for all participants and delegates to consider approaches being used in assessment around the world and the possible applicability in their context.

The research presented was relevant and applicable to all teaching (early childhood to post-secondary) and provided an opportunity for Canadian educators to compare their own approaches and strategies for assessment to the learning of our international partners.