Posts Tagged With: assessment

Badges for Assessment – Why Not?

Ever since participating in a Blackboard Collaborate session with Doug Belshaw at ETMOOC 2013,  I’ve been wanting to learn more about badges as an authentic way for students to demonstrate and receive credit for their learning. With our province so heavily engaged in curriculum redesign, and with educators being called upon to consider new and innovative ways to plan, carry out and assess learning; I’m leaving no rock unturned in an effort to support them in their efforts. Badges, to me, looks like something worth exploring further.

Look here if you would like to gain a better understanding of the concept of badges. I encourage you to read the “Ten Things to Know About Badges.”


I quickly became intrigued while looking through the Mozilla Open Badges platform, however it seemed as though most of the badges were designed for high school and adult learners, so, as an elementary principal I decided to see if there was anything out there for younger students, and in doing so, came across a free website called ClassBadges. I like this one because teachers can set up and manage a class account where each student has an individual login. Badges could be selected from an existing bank or customized for individual students or classes, and easily be aligned to academic goals, curriculum outcomes, or 21st century competencies. Teachers could work with students to identify areas of interest, then create criteria that would need to be met in order to earn that particular badge. The teacher would award badges electronically to students when they were satisfied the criteria had been met. Once awarded, the student would be given access to the badge, which could be displayed anywhere electronically.  Each badge, with its criteria could be added to the bank for other students who may be interested in earning that badge themselves. Can you see the possibilities here?

Sample Badge from

Sample Badge from ClassBadges Website

Sample Badge from ClassBadges Website

Sample Badge from ClassBadges Website

Badges, I think, could offer a way to document different types of authentic learning both inside and outside the school. Perhaps they could place an emphasis on important competencies such as global awareness, digital citizenship, collaboration, and creativity. Perhaps they could provide students with more control over their own learning and give a more complete picture of their abilities in relation to the program of study. Once earned, perhaps a digital portfolio (website, wiki, blog, etc.) could be used to house, display and share badges with others.

Sigh… there I go again with my pie in the sky thinking. It would be easy to list the many reasons why “badges” (and so many other forward thinking ideas) just won’t work, but to that I say, “If it’s important you’ll find a way; if it’s not you’ll find an excuse.”

I encourage you to explore badges and let me know what you think.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Education Transformation, ETMOOC | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

And So Test Prep Season Begins

This past week parent/teacher conferences were held at our school. It was an opportunity for teachers and students to share the many engaging learning experiences they’ve been involved in this year. This interactive timeline outlines some of them. I am so proud of my teachers for trying a variety of new approaches in order to engage our learners in a more relevant way. It’s exciting to walk around the school and see teaching and learning as I never have before.

Awhile back I wrote a post called Is Curriculum Thwarting Transformation? There, I argued that our provinces oversized curriculum is getting in the way of teachers trying to dig deeper into key learner outcomes through real world, authentic learning experiences. In order to get everything “covered” by the end of the year they have no choice but to skim the surface of important outcomes so students will at least have touched on everything. As we all know, that means staying at the lower end of Blooms Taxonomy. And if you’re a grade 3, 6 or 9 teacher with Provincial Achievement Tests staring you in the face, that ups the ante even more.

So with the final term underway at our elementary school, the grade 3 and 6 teachers are starting to prep for the test. Our superintendent @cdsmeaton has always told us that the PATs should not affect our teaching practice. “I am a staunch believer”, he tells us, “that a focus on excellent teaching will lead to excellent results, no matter how it’s measured.” I tell them the same thing. But it doesn’t quite play out that way in the mind of the individual teacher. PATs, existing as they are, leave teachers with a strong sense of responsibility to prepare their students to write them; and as long as the tests are administered in such a way that has very little to do with the type of learning teachers are being called upon to engage in, there will be a bit of an exit from engaging learning around this time every year.

Heres what I’m getting at:

Below is a question from the 2009 Grade 6 Social Studies PAT: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

EquityThe assignment below took place earlier this year at my school, addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Equity vs Equality

Teacher Blog Post to Students

Student Response

Student Response

And yet another project addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Here is another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)


The assignment below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Rachels Simile Post

Yet another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

Reading Response

The blog post below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Michelle Reading Response

Many would say that my teachers should continue with these engaging and authentic learning experiences and the PATS will take care of themselves. The problem is that it takes time; much more time than is left over once the curriculum gets “covered.” Time that will now be needed to skim the surface, to prep for the test, to write the test, and to deal with a great deal of unneeded stress.

Is it fair to ask teachers and students to do both?

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

How Do We Measure a Competency?

Recently, I participated in two excellent Twitter chats on the #21stedchat hashtag. The first was about Assessing 21st Century Competencies and the second explored Marks and Grades in the 21st Century.  Both chats drew large crowds and much of the discussion revolved around the kind of assessment practices that will be needed to support the building of important competencies for future society.  The following graphic, which comes from Alberta’s new Framework for Student Learning, pretty much outlines the competencies we were talking about:

Many involved in the chat agreed that there needs to be a move toward students demonstrating their learning in more authentic ways, aligning with real-world situations. An emphasis on choice, performance assessments, portfolio building, and student-led conferences all came up as high yield strategies to better support the kind of learning needed today.  It was inspiring to hear from the many educators who are pushing the envelope with both learning and assessment.  Their ideas were both innovative and practical.

Then, at one point in the discussion I posed a question that we’ve been grappling with at my school for a while now, “How exactly do we measure a student’s level of proficiency with competencies such as collaboration, critical thinking, and communication?”  It took a few minutes but then @PaulSolarz from Illinois shared this 21st Century Skills Report Card which includes 34 elements to be assessed.  It’s a comprehensive accounting of the important competencies that should be included in our student’s learning.  Thankfully, he was kind enough to grant me permission to borrow it in order to further the work I am undertaking at my own school.  I did, however, press him a bit further by asking how each element is measured and received this response:

@millerg6 Each bullet is a behavior that needs to be observed by the teacher. Still qualitative, but with guidelines. #21stedchat

…and then this (which I agree with wholeheartedly) “@millerg6 Thanks an important question, but should it delay the implementation of 21st Century Skill instruction? I think let the Ts try it! #21stedchat

I would say this is the challenge many schools are facing today.  Educators are being called upon to engage students in a new way but can’t seem to figure out how to effectively measure and report the authentic learning.  Because of this, competency-based learning remains superficial at best.  At the end of each unit or term most teachers fall back on the comfort of traditional assessment practices.   

Just last week Alberta’s School Boards and Superintendents released this discussion paper on student assessment It contends that “curriculum and assessment must change to better prepare students to succeed in a complex and dynamic world. Some skills and abilities have always been important for success, but now change is occurring and knowledge is growing much more rapidly than in the past. The tools we used are different and quickly evolving.  As well, the majority of people in our society now need sophisticated skill sets, as opposed to just a few.”

The discussion paper goes on to suggest that “teachers will continue to use assessment to inform instruction and evaluate students in classrooms, but the types of assessment will most likely change. Most educational researchers and leaders believe that assessments should be much more performance-based. That is, the assessment of students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes needs to be more closely linked to tasks performed in the world outside the classroom.”

It is my opinion that we should be exploring competency-based authentic assessment with a great deal of enthusiasm in our schools today.  Let’s give our teachers the necessary time and support to come together and work on this.  They’re the best resource we have.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning | Tags: , , , , | 19 Comments

Zero Debate – Waste of Time?

Many educators have been using much of their valuable time arguing about zeroes these last few days. If you have been following this debate through the social media outlets, there is a good chance you are a forward thinking, transformational educator who wants to see teaching and learning change to better meet the needs of today’s student. With this in mind, I suggest we get away from talking about punitive grading and move our conversations back to sharing the wonderful stories that are happening in many pockets throughout our province and around the world. Every day, I am inspired by the innovative initiatives shared by my PLN. Before we can really figure out how to measure relevant, competency based learning experiences, we have a lot of work to do in delivering them effectively.   

In my opinion topics like the zero debate are exactly why transformation is taking so long. As educators we still seem to get caught up on measurable outcomes, while staying away from the elephant in the room, which is how are we going to make learning more relevant for our students. We need to get past this idea of product and pay more attention to process; formative, not summative assessment; assessment for learning, not assessment of learning.

Two years ago, Alberta’s Inspiring Action on Education called upon us to engage in “A competencies-based, student-focused curriculum requiring the attainment of attitudes, skills and knowledge as well as values for living, learning and working. The report also suggested that students need to be engaged thinkers, demonstrate ethical citizenship, and develop their entrepreneurial spirit.”

You can’t tell me that the zero debate has anything to do with any of this. Sorry for the rant but I had to do it.

Categories: Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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