Planning for Assessment

Cheryl Lovstrom, Community Learning Network

1 7 9 May 2018

* Please note that this blog has been updated since it's original post.

From the first moment they enter our office, and until the day they leave, CALP staff work with learners to help them achieve their goals. We talk, we laugh (and sometimes cry), and we learn. We learn from each other and use those lessons to guide us on our learning journey. Part of that guided journey begins with assessment.

Assessment is a process we use to help learners meet their goals. It’s a way to collect information to help us create a successful learning experience. We use it when we develop a learning plan with a learner at the appropriate skill level, and we may use several methods to assess learning levels and progress. The assessment tools and techniques we use in CALP programs are learner-centred and informal.

Lesson materials should stretch a learner’s abilities and challenge them. Lessons should provide that stretch without being at a level too high for the learner’s current abilities, or so easy they become bored. As CALP staff, we are searching for the sweet spot somewhere in the middle; offering a “comfortable challenge” to start the learning journey. To do this successfully we need to assess where the learner is in that learning journey. So we grab our favourite assessment tool and administer a test. Or do we?

CALP staff are skilled at informally assessing learners in our programs. We are constantly watching and listening for cues to tell us about a learner’s comfort level, skill level, level of confidence, and how they are progressing in their learning journey; reaching for those trusty assessment tools only when absolutely necessary. The question is, when is a more formal assessment necessary? For the answer, follow these steps to help you plan for assessment:

Step 1: Have the conversation

Learner assessment begins with the first meeting. Have a casual conversation with the learner and get to know them. Reinforce the idea that the learner is in a safe, caring environment. Have a friendly, open discussion and invite the learner to share things that excite or inspire them. Be prepared to share some of your favourite things as well to create a safe, friendly environment.

Once you have a comfortable conversation going, ask questions like, “What do you like to do? What kinds of things are you good at? How do you like to learn?” The answers to these questions will give you a good idea of learning style and motivation for learning.

Step 2: Do you need a more formal assessment?

Based on what your learner tells you, and the cues you hear, you can begin to decide if you need to do a more formal assessment. Assessment is to be used when it can help you move the learner toward their goal. This does not mean you will automatically give the learner a test. Tests are often intimidating for learners coming to a CALP and should only be used once the learner feels safe and comfortable to do so.

To help you choose whether or not to do this, ask yourself this simple question:

  • Can you find out what you need to know from observing and listening to the learner?

If you answered yes to this question, you don’t need to do a more formal assessment at this time. Depending on the learner’s progress, or their long-term goals, you may want to do a more formal assessment down the road. But not yet.

If you answered no to the first question, ask yourself these next questions:

  • Do you need more information about the learner’s abilities in order to start them at the right learning level?
  • Does the learner want to go back to school (in the formal education system)?
  • Does the learner need to take a test (i.e. driver’s test, entry test for school, citizenship test, etc.)?

Did you answer yes to any of these questions? You may want to use a more formal assessment tool.

Step 3: Choosing an Assessment Tool:

You might choose one of the assessments on the flowchart (below) to start with, and walk the learner through the process. Reassure them this is not a test and it will help you to make sure they get the help they need to reach their learning goals.

If you do have to administer a more formal test (i.e. for GED Prep), make sure you are close by to help if the learner has any questions or needs clarification. Make them as comfortable as possible so they can be successful.

Before you use a more formal assessment tool, ask yourself why you are using it. How will you use the results of the assessment? Valid reasons for doing a more formal assessment include:

  • You need a more accurate picture of their skill level in order to gather the most appropriate materials to help the learner achieve their goal.
  • The learner wants to go back to school and you need an assessment to help you both decide if they have the necessary skills to move ahead.
  • The learner asks. 

Remember to include the learner throughout the assessment process, to empower their learning choices and goal setting. Connect the assessment results directly to the learner's goals, reminding them that the learning they're working on will give them the skills they need to get where they want to go.

To download a printable version of this chart for yourself, just click here.

Cheryl Lovstrom
CLN Regional Support Staff
Central Alberta


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