Is it time to get uncomfortable and re-think assessment and evaluation?

I’m not one to back away from “uncomfortable conversations,” and I think that this blog post may lead to one. Lately though, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about marks, rubrics, feedback, and the role that parents play in this complex process.

As a Kindergarten educator, I thankfully haven’t had to assign marks in a couple of years now. I love how Growing Success: The Kindergarten Addendum focuses on assessment from an asset lens. Assessment is really about knowing where the child is at, his/her biggest area of growth, and what he/she needs to work on to move forward. Learning is seen in a positive light, and students are at the centre of this learning. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the way that learning should be. 

But in the last few months, I’ve had many interesting conversations with other educators about assessment and evaluation thanks to the Reading Part 1 course that I’m taking through our Board. As part of this course, we’ve explored rubrics, Growing Success, and parent communication as it connects to assessment and evaluation practices. It’s through these conversations that I’ve heard many comments that I’ve also heard before.

  • Parents aren’t involved enough in their child’s learning.
  • Rubrics tell parents how their child is doing.
  • Parents respond to bad marks or problem phone calls. 
  • Parents want marks.
  • Children need to know how they’re doing.

These are comments that continue to bother me. Why? I have yet to meet parents that don’t want to know how their child is doing AND aren’t willing to support their child in the best way that they know how. As Aaron Puley reminded me years ago now, we cannot assume that parents know how to support this learning at home. 

  • Are we providing suggestions?
  • Are we making these suggestions accessible to all parents?
  • Are we giving parents and students the time needed to try out these suggestions at home? 

Many families have busy lives. Parents may work shift work. Children may be involved in extracurricular activities. This doesn’t mean that they won’t work on these home suggestions, but may need more than a day to do so, or may benefit from options that can support learning on the go: be it in a car, on a bus, or on a family walk. 

I think that we also live in a world where marks have been the norm for a long time. If we want parents to understand the benefits of feedback or how assessment can be communicated through an asset lens, then we have to introduce them to these other options. We have to talk to them about the benefits of these different approaches. Answer their questions. Read the documents together. Have a good conversation about them … and be willing to have these uncomfortable talks because kids are worth it!

When I was in the Faculty of Education 18 years ago, a professor told me, “Parents give us the best that they have!” Their kids mean the world to them, and they want to know that we care about them as much as they do. Just like educators, parents know the most about what they’re accustomed to. If we’re trying a different approach, we need to communicate this to them, and help them see the benefits of an alternative option. We have to be open to discussion and some new learning together!

Here’s my biggest concern: for as long as I can remember, educators have told kids and parents to “look at the comments. Don’t focus on the marks.” And then, we all seem a little shocked when everyone does the opposite. Why? If we’re toting the benefits of rubrics (largely mark-based) and highlighting problems (instead of successes), wouldn’t people see the most value in a mark that quickly communicates, in a pseudo-standardized way, where their child is at? If we want students and parents to look beyond the mark, maybe we need a less mark-based approach all the way up to the report card. If the grade is the biggest focus, what does that say about how we communicate learning and how others view it? I know that there are pockets of changes happening in Ontario. Is it time to make a gradeless option (at least prior to report cards) an even bigger movement? I think that it just might be.


4 thoughts on “Is it time to get uncomfortable and re-think assessment and evaluation?

  1. Awesome read Aviva! Thanks for sharing my journey. You know my opinion is, YES!

    The conversations are the important part. All of my students are spot on with their reflections. In fact, my parent interviews were quick because all the parents knew how their child was doing and the 15mins became more of a formality.

    As always keep up the questioning and pushing.

    • Thanks Jonathan! I love hearing this about your interviews. You show the value in this kind of assessment. Even without marks, parents knew where their child was at and the children knew too. I wonder if this also makes students (and parents) value learning, for learning’s sake, even more.


  2. I agree…there is a facebook group called “GoingGradeless” with lots of great suggestions. It seems to be primarily UK based, but very interesting. I think we need this change sooner than later – life long learning is about grades!

    • Thanks Heather! I think that learning can happen with grades, but if we really want to encourage learning for learning’s sake, then we need to stop making marks the first thing that people look to. We may have to put marks on report cards, but how often do we have to give them beforehand? I wonder if a bigger focus on learning goals and success criteria could help with this.


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