Observations, Conversations and Products

Posted: 18th October 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

If you have kids somewhere in the education system, how are they evaluated in their classes?

How were you evaluated when you were in school?

Here’s a regular conversation at my breakfast table:

One kid:  “Ugh.  I have a test today.”

Another kid:  “I have 2 tests today.”

And another kid:  “I’m supposed to have 3 tests but I’m hoping I’ll get to do one of them tomorrow.”

Tests have played a role in school evaluation for a very long time.  We’ve all been there.  But, I started to wonder, after one of these breakfast conversations, when was the last time I was evaluated using a test?

Well, there is the ever favourite annual WHMIS testing we are required to do but that doesn’t totally count because when you don’t get the right answer you are sent right back into the learning module to get the information.  Not exactly a test in the true sense of the word.

I honestly don’t think I’ve taken any formal test since I graduated from university.  But have I done lots of learning since then?  Oh yes.  Have I been evaluated?  Definitely.  Has my learning been negatively impacted by not having tests?  I don’t think so.

So how has my learning been measured since I left my school student days behind?

  • interviews and conversations
  • personal or collaborative reflection
  • journaling (and blogging!)
  • observation of my practice
  • by teaching others
  • projects I’ve completed or been involved in
  • demonstrating new skills/knowledge practically

In other words, through a variety of observations, conversations and products.  A wide range of choices that allowed me to show off my learning in meaningful ways.  And nary a multiple choice question in sight.

We want students to have choices to represent their learning.  We want students to demonstrate their learning in meaningful ways.  So, I guess I’m wondering:  are we doing our best by our students by relying heavily on tests to represent their learning?

Don’t get me wrong; there are times that a test may be the most appropriate tool.  But are there times that we use tests because they are easy (or easier)?  That might mean that they are easier to implement, easier to control the information the evaluator is seeking, easier to evaluate, easier to demonstrate to parents/students how the student is doing, or easier for students to prepare for.  And while one or more of these might be true some of the time, it is doubtful that it is true all of the time.  Plus, easier doesn’t necessarily mean better.

I love that Growing Success tells us that evaluation is based on the use of observations, conversations and products.  I wonder if we all, as educators, need to be reminded of this from time to time.  Perhaps the time we put into planning tests, preparing them, having students write them, and then marking them could be used differently.

For those who love to say that our job is to prepare students for the real world, maybe we need to consider how many tests we have written as an adult in the real world.

Tests have their place, but other sources of evaluation should also have a significant place in our schools.

If you are an educator, how would/have you expand(ed) your use of other products, conversations and observations?  How do we make these alternate sources of evaluation more mainstream and accepted?


  1. adunsige says:

    Oh Kristi … I cannot tell you how much I LOVE this blog post! I had to shout, “hallelujah,” out loud when I read it (and I really did do that, even if only to my dogs 🙂 ). I am such a huge advocate of reconsidering tests, but I’ve never looked at this before through the eyes of “how much do we really use tests now anyway?” Your argument makes so much sense!

    I love how documentation allows us to look at products, conversations, and observations (sometimes all in one space). We take a lot of photographs and videos, and sharing these, especially when expanding on the context of the learning that happened, really helps highlight our conversations and observations. As for making these alternate forms of evaluation more mainstream and accepted, I wonder if this begins with educators and administrators really believing in and embracing these other forms? If we see and understand the value in them, and then are open in sharing this value with parents (speaking to the need for strong home/school connections), does change then start to happen? Curious to hear what others have to say about this.


  2. jarbenne says:

    Do tests have a place (and by tests I’m refering to the paper and pencil variety similar to what we see during EQAO) in terms of Growing Success? The “sit-at-your-desk-I-can’t-help-you” variety seem to be neither an observation, or a conversation. The resulting paper is a pale definition of a product.

    Could it be that these “tests” have no place within our current understanding of assessment? If they don’t fit within the observations, conversations, and products buckets, are they counter to the guidelines Growing Success sets out for all teachers to follow?