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The Assessment Connection

In the last Edushift article entitled Meta-Education for a Sustainable World, I introduced a phrase that has stuck with me over the years; “structure guides behavior”. At the heart of this statement is the idea that putting the necessary structures in place to help people get to a better place is what education system thinking and action is all about.

There is another phrase that I have also relied upon over my many years of education system thinking which is “it always comes back to assessment.” You can check this out for yourself. Almost every discussion about education change, reform, transformation etc. invariably arrives back to assessment. That is because assessment is at the heart of how students and adults interact with each other and how the concept of “teaching and learning” is interpreted, enacted and measured.

The KnowledgeWorks organization has released a timely and forward-thinking document entitled “Measuring Forward: Emerging Trends in K-12 Assessment Innovation”. The following table from the publication offers a compelling view of the critical role that assessment will need to play in post-pandemic education.

From “Measuring Forward: Emerging Trends in K-12 Assessment Innovation” by KnowledgeWorks, November, 2021

We can see how the elements under “Vision for Change” are, in essence, much deeper than simply assessment. They provide a vision for a future state of education that most people seem to want; where students and adults are working together on a process of growth that is accountable to their personal needs. However, although the same table heading refers to “future assessment systems”, an effective interpretation, communication, and implementation of this vision for assessment can only happen with larger scale education system change.

This has been recognized in other publications from KnowledgeWorks. Of note is a document from January 2021 entitled “Education in the Balance: Tensions Affecting Education’s Futures” that includes the following image.

Education in the Balance: Tension's Affecting Education's Futures

“Educators have risen to the challenge of reconfiguring instructional and service models, but systems may lack the capacity to continue working at the edge as conditions shift and as the health and well-being of the individuals propping up ill-equipped systems are threatened.” “Education in the Balance: Tensions Affecting Education’s Futures, January 13, 2021

The topic of assessment is common to educators. However, progress on the advancement of innovative assessment practices remains a challenge due to education system structures that do not support these practices.* Assessment needs to be viewed in conjunction with a broader interpretation of what educational system change means.

The KnowledgeWorks visual is presented from an American context, in response to Covid-19 inequities and public outcry from racially motivated hate crimes. It is effective for:

  • recognizing education systems as interconnected with other societal and institutional forces,

  • linking education system change with progressive action for the betterment of society as a whole in keeping with current realities,

  • presenting educational system change in a way that challenges current approaches and structures, and

  • clarifying that educational system change is a societal responsibility.

It could be suggested that “Tensions Affecting Education’s Futures” is a framework for the move from micro to macro education system thinking. The framework promotes educational system thinking beyond mere adjustments to current system structures (eg. assessment systems) to achieve a connection with larger societal needs and values.

In comparison, Edushift is advocating education system thinking one step further; from micro to meta education system thinking.

In his seminal book “Education in a Time Between Worlds”, writer, educator and futurist Zachary Stein provides a name and definition for the unique period of time we are in: Anthropocene. “From the Greek roots anthropo, meaning “human,” and –cene, meaning “new,” this term is now being used to mark a formal unit of ecological time suggesting that humanity has so impacted the Earth’s basic physical constituents (especially its atmosphere and chemical composition) that our age constitutes a new geological phase of planetary development.” Stein P 67

Our world is also witnessing the impact of global communication platforms that promote misinformation and animosity to the detriment of societal cohesion and global sustainability. This too is a planetary issue that requires a broader interpretation of education.

Educational system change is difficult due to longstanding traditions with industrial-era education that are out of sync with what education now needs to be. However, everyone can agree that we need to work together for a sustainable world. Everyone can also agree that education has a role to play.

It will take a monumental effort to awaken people to the opportunities available from meta-educational system change. But success will happen once people can make a personal connection with the planetary and societal changes that are happening around us with increasing prominence and intensity.

Meta-education system thinking is a way forward for educational system change. It frames progressive action for the development of system structures that can achieve a new vision for education in a sustainable world. This vision is aligned with "asessment innovation" as it relates to culturally responsive equity and personalized and meaningful engagement. We can't have one without the other. It always comes back to assessment.

Phil Dawes, November 21, 2021

* More than ten years ago, school districts in Ontario, Canada were provided with the groundbreaking Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools. From that that document: “The use of assessment to improve student learning and to help students become independent learners requires teachers and students to acknowledge and enact a fundamental shift in how they perceive their roles in the learning process.” (p. 30) The framework has disappeared from use with minimal effort to explore the systematic breakdown of its application.

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