Can you decolonize assessment?
I have been working alongside educators all over BC this past year in decolonizing teacher practice and one of the most common questions I get is how can we decolonize assessment? This is a complicated question because I believe that assessment practices is a larger conversation in and of itself. This reflection will go through some of the connections I am making with my own personal teaching practice, plus include some of my conversations with educators over the last year.
Before we get started in the conversation around assessment, I would like to start with a reminder that colonized education is based on the structure of power. This hierarchy of power is based on the western colonial education model. It was made by white settlers, for white settlers. The history of education here in BC is rooted in assimilation and colonization. Edgar Ryerson was known as the Father of the Public Education system, as he was the creator of BC’s and Canada’s public education system. Ryerson was also the man who created the Residential School system as we know it today. The Canadian government used the residential school system as a tool of assimilation for all Indigenous children. Knowing that the two systems were created and built by the same person, helps us put into perspective our own education and what was purposefully left out of our learning. It also helps show us what our role is as educators, if we want to change how things have always been done.
It has been well documented that the current education system is problematic for non-white students. As we learn to understand the inequities within our system, the key for change will be relationships. Relationships are at the core of decolonized teacher practice. Decolonizing the system will take building relationships with students, families, and the school community. Connecting to students and understanding who they are and how they learn will support your understanding in how you will be able to assess their learning as a process of learning together. Relationships will help support this by co-creating the assessment process with students. This is a process-orientated practice that will take time and constant reflection. But this process will support students in finding their own voice and their own strengths. It allows for students to express themselves in their work. This can include their culture, history, and world view. It can also include their anger, frustration, and their joys. The purpose of decolonizing the assessment process is to invite students into the role as a collaborator in assessment and learning. Being a part of the process, allows the student to think through how they express themselves best. It can also challenge the student to hold themselves accountable in the work they choose to do by playing a role in their own success. Co-creating assessment takes away the colonial hierarchy of power that the current system is built on. The colonial process of the teacher deciding what, how, and when a student learns, leaves out the most important part of the learning process, which is who is the student and how do they learn? Sharing the role of the learning process is asking the student to acknowledge that they have a role to play in their own success. We learn and grow more together. Collaboration is a huge component to decolonized teaching practice. Self-reflection and goal setting are also built into the BC curriculum, this reinstates the importance of this work in the classroom.
I am thinking at this point you were hoping that I was going to give you a check list on how to decolonize assessment. I am sorry to let you down, but I won’t be doing that. Each student and each assessment looks different, because we are all different in the ways we approach learning and teaching. What I can do is give you some ideas on how you can personally approach the work of decolonizing assessment.
Starting off with taking some time to think about what it is you are teaching about, then create ways in which you can invite students into being co-creators of the learning process. In what ways can your students show you, their learning? How are you asking students to show up in their work? How are you giving students the opportunity to see themselves in their work? Are you giving options for how they show you their learning, not just written output but oral ways, videos, podcasts, and/or art work? There are many ways students can share with you their process and their learning from the work you do together. We all know as teachers that there will be times when students will learn more than what was intended within a lesson or project, so be mindful in ways you acknowledge or identify this unexpected learning and connections within the process of assessment. This holds the space for you as the educator to be responsive to the student’s needs within their own learning. Part of our work as educators is observing, noticing, and responding to the evolving learning that is happening for the student. Allowing students to have choice and voice, gives students agency over their learning and the learning process.
Just to recap, there is no check list, there is no one size fits all for this work. It is a co-creation of work together with your students and the work that you are designing together to support the learning in your classroom. Decolonizing teacher practice is an on-going practice that everyone can do every day in education. Holding ourselves accountable to reflect and check in with our work on a continual basis will be how we all get better at this work. Asking ourselves questions like, what did I do today that was decolonizing my classroom practice? In what ways did I disrupt the colonial narrative today, rather than perpetuating it?
Stop, pause, reflect, repeat…