(Source: Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, n.d., Assessment for learning program; Questions & Answers)
What is the Assessment for Learning Program?
Overall, the Ministry's Assessment for Learning Program is intended to serve as a vehicle for improving student learning outcomes in targeted key areas. The Program has three components (enhancing assessment literacy, provision of division- and school-specific opportunity-to-learn data, and provision of division- and school-specific achievement outcome data). Together, these components help school divisions focus on two main objectives: i)building capacity in understanding and using data and ii) making the teaching and learning process more visible so that supports, resources and system strategies focused on improvement in learner outcomes can be implemented effectively.
In what ways is the Saskatchewan Assessment for Learning Program different than other large-scale assessment programs?
Many jurisdictions implement large-scale assessment programs and participate in national (SAIP and now PCAP) and international (PISA) assessments. Assessments of this type have value in showing snapshots of student performance over time and, through repeated observations of student achievement outcomes, policy directions can be taken to intervene for improvement in the system. These assessments are typically characterized as assessments of learning, and they tend to support primarily top-down approaches to initiate improvement. Saskatchewan's participation in national and international assessments can serve this purpose.
For provincial assessments, however, Saskatchewan's Assessment for Learning Program is intended to serve a much different purpose (often referred to as assessment for learning). When undertaken effectively, the Program invites ownership and collaboration and brings the improvement process and solution down to the classroom level where learning occurs and the greatest impact can be had. This is done through ongoing engagement and reflection in using the data as starting points to inform good questions and discussions that lead to planning and interventions to affect improvement. Assessment for Learning can empower learning communities as they identify and address systemic factors and individual factors to improve learning outcomes for their students.
How does the Assessment for Learning Program support the Continuous Improvement Framework?
Continuous Improvement Framework provides school divisions with processes and expectations around planning, monitoring, and reporting with a focus on improving student learning outcomes. Important to these planning, monitoring and reporting functions is the collection and dissemination of division-specific information to inform improvement efforts and progress in the system for enabling learners to:
- Attain high levels of literacy and achievement in a broad range of studies commensurate with ability;
- Demonstrate personal and social skills for well being and citizenship;
- Attain high school completion; and,
- Make successful transitions to post-secondary education and/or employment.
The Assessment for Learning program, along with other provincial and division sources of data, is a key contributor to inform several of these core outcome areas. Over the last several years, Saskatchewan Learning has expanded the Assessment for Learning program to provide a broad set of measures and has focussed thus far on mathematics, reading, and writing - an assessment protocol for science will be added in the future. These data sources are used by school community councils and school staffs to inform the development of schools' learning improvement plans and to engage more effectively the community in support of the learning program.
The assessments used in each subject area are curriculum-based and are developed by groups of classroom teachers and other subject specialists. The specific assessment at any particular grade level measures the degree to which students are mastering particular areas of that grade's curriculum. Once completed, the assessments are graded by cadres of classroom teachers, school division central office personnel, and Ministry officials.
Student performance is characterized in terms of being "adequate", "proficient", and/or "below adequate". Results are then aggregated to provide province-wide as well as division- and classroom-level snapshots of student performance.