Will “Communicating About Learning” transform Progress Reports?

Almost a year ago, fully one sixth of educators from Gulf Island Schools attended a three-day institute on assessment in Victoria. The workshop expanded the conversation between teachers about assessment practices and how we communicate student learning, and how it can engage the learner and focus on “what comes next” in the learning journey for each student.

Do some assessment practices detract from student motivation and cause students to be less invested in their studies? Carol Ames found students who are compared unfavorably with their peers presented a lower self-esteem, were less prepared to take risks, and practiced more superficial learning strategies. (Classrooms: Goals, Structures, and Student Motivation, American Psychological Association, 1992) As adults, we do not receive grades — we receive descriptive feedback that informs our practice. As a school district, we are on a continuing journey to engage in assessment and communication practices that support learning for all students.

Gulf Islands educators are engaged in two significant provincial initiatives around assessment. The “Inquiring Districts” initiative is guided by the “Spirals of Inquiry” (Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser) and involves 13 BC school districts making inquiry around curriculum and assessment practices. In addition, two Gulf Islands schools projects were chosen among 17 “K-12 Innovation Partnership Projects” by BC’s Ministry of Education.

Learning Links Photo DLphoto: Doug Livingston

At the heart of the “Inquiring Districts” initiative is the belief that students need to be actively engaged in their own learning including setting learning goals and assessing their progress. Inquiry: Are changes to our assessment practices enhancing student ownership of learning? This team, led by Superintendent Lisa Halstead, includes Shelly Johnson, Janet Hoag, Susan Robinson, Doug Livingston, and other teachers who would like to participate in the project.

The Innovation Partnership Project includes two Gulf Islands projects (as one.) These are as follows:

Salt Spring Elementary, Fulford Elementary, Fernwood Elementary, Saltspring Island Middle, Galiano Community School, Phoenix Elementary and Learning Services
Community: Gulf Islands
Proposal: To develop and implement best practices in communicating student learning. Instead of report cards three times a year, pilot schools will explore various practices, including student-led conferences, student portfolios, student and peer assessments, co-created criteria and competency-based reporting.

Gulf Islands Secondary
Community: Salt Spring Island
Proposal: To work towards eliminating letter grades from the Transition Program (REAL 9 and Planning 10); instead have students focus on the experiences and reflective process. Traditional grades in Robotics 10-12 will also be replaced with qualitative summaries of student progress from both teacher and student via electronic portfolios

The connection between assessment, student wellness and success, and the role of resiliency in student success is evident to us.

If you would like more information about these projects or have an interest in participating directly in one of these projects, contact your principal or myself directly.

Doug Livingston
Director of Instruction — Learning Services
Gulf Islands SD 64
112 Rainbow Road
Salt Spring Island, BC V8K 2K3