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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The balancing act of summative assessment

The balancing act of summative assessment

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When looking at assessment of learning, or summative assessment, it is important to recognise its importance: it gives a snapshot of learning at a particular moment in time for the purposes of reporting; it allows students to be sorted according to achievement (influencing grade promotion decisions); policy makers can look at this information and make important decisions based upon it. Having said that, one could argue that assessment of learning is like a getaway train with policy makers consumed by the information it produces for better or worse: teachers are trimming the curriculum in order to teach the test; programs such as music and the arts are being cut to increase time allotted for subjects more likely to be reflected on standardised tests; and the very nature of these tests promote failure on the part of a significant portion of students; schools are ranked on their performance of what can be considered a flawed measurement. Where is the balancing act here? How do we promote the benefits of summative assessment, as there are indeed can be many, without falling into the trap of an all consuming existence of test taking and standardised tests? Are local standardised tests the answer – written and executed within a single school board? Perhaps if school boards, or even provinces took ownership over their own standardised testing we can also take ownership over its uses.

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ElemMusicTeach's picture
ElemMusicTeach
Elementary Music Teacher, PEI, Canada

In Canada, our education system is provincial rather than national. This works to our advantage for preventing standardized test from getting out of hand. There can be no national roll-out of testing to consume the nations' educators. In Prince Edward Island we do province wide assessments at grade 3, 6, and 9. These tests are written and administrated by island educators while high school exams in grades 10, 11 & 12 are written by individual subject teachers.

While this system feels 'comfortable' to us as educators as a province we tend to do poorly on national testing and policy makers are starting to get fidgety. Perhaps this is a worthwhile feeling if our testing is showing below average standards - maybe a shake-up is necessary.

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