NEW – President’s Message – September 2015

cafln-logo-red100The Canadian Assessment for Learning Network

September 2, 2015

Dear CAfLN members,

The Executive has just returned from an exciting summer retreat – mostly work, but a little water play too – and, as a result of our discussions, the coming year, only our third, promises to be our best yet.

While you will see the fruits of our work reflected on the website this Fall, I’d like to share some highlights:

  • A major purpose of our mission is to connect educators across the country who are committed to assessment for learning.  To that end, we will soon be inviting members to complete detailed personal profiles that will enable you to connect directly with other educators who share similar work assignments and interests
  • As well as developing our online and virtual communications, we are examining ways to encourage the creation of local CAfLN groups who are able to meet face-to-face, while staying connected to members across the entire network. Here, for example, is a brief report of a local network in BC:

     The annual CAfLN conference and symposium was held in Nanaimo in the spring of 2015. At that event a desire to continue to meet face-to-face regionally was expressed. On June 1st, 2015, an incredible group of approximately 45 mid Vancouver Island educators gathered in School District 69 to continue the AfL conversations that started at the CAfLN conference. The group was comprised of: student teachers, primary, intermediate, middle and high school teachers, counselors, learning services teachers, school and district based administration, Vancouver Island University staff and represented 4 school districts and VIU. Each person or team brought a resource, question and/or artifact; the group was welcomed and the networking began. Our gathering ended with participants being asked to provide feedback for future gatherings and the overwhelming response was the desire to have opportunities for ongoing conversation – both digitally and face-to-face.

School District 68 will be hosting the next face-to-face opportunity on Monday, Oct. 28, 2015. Please also follow the #CAfLNework and #noiiaesn Twitter hashtags. A Facebook page for the regional group is also being established.

Of course, our annual symposium and conference will continue to be exciting face-to-face events and plans for 2016 are well under way. We ask that you circle the dates on the calendar and note the venue – May 13 and 14 at the Faculty of Education, Queen’s University, Kingston. We hope that such early notification will enable you to make funding and travel arrangements at the beginning of this school year. An early bird poster will be sent to you very soon, with details about the conference coming later this Fall. The conference theme for 2016 is “Moving it Forward: Assessment for Learning in Policy, Research and Practice”. In the meantime, be sure to visit our website ( for the latest details.

And so another summer draws to a close. Shorter than ever, by my reckoning! But a new academic year brings with it a sense of anticipation and excitement. Heeding the message of John Hattie, let’s pledge this year to reflect at the end of each day by asking, “What impact did I have upon all of those with whom I work?”

Have a productive and fulfilling year in whatever context you work. We look forward to meeting you in Kingston, if not before.

Damian Cooper

President, The Canadian Assessment for Learning Network

2015 Annual CAfLN Conference and AGM Announcement

Communicating About Learning Through Assessment

2nd Annual CAfLN Conference and AGM

April 10 and 11th , 2015

Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, BC

The Conference, entitled “Communicating About Learning Through Assessment” will feature CAfLN Members from across the Country.

The CAfLN Conference is held annually in a different location in Canada, in conjunction with the CAfLN Members’ Symposium and AGM.  The conference is an open event for educators, researchers and policy makers to connect with CAfLN members and engage in focussed discussion about Assessment for Learning in a Canadian context. CAfLN works with local members to design a program that will give the local educational community access to CAfLN members in workshops and discussions designed to move Assessment for Learning forward.

Response by Ken O’Connor to the Toronto Star article on Ontario Grading Guidelines

Original articles here

and Ken’s response

I would like to respond to the article titled “Ontario’s grading guidelines get a big zero’ (Star, August 22nd) by saying that while Joe Killoran may be well-intentioned he is mostly wrong.

He states that the rationale for determining grades only on achievement of academic expectations and reporting learning skills separately is that “it is more important for students to think critically and understand the subject matter.” It is not a matter of relative importance – the rationale for separating achievement from learning skills is that when you mix them together you know nothing about either as grades become an uncertain mix of achievement and behaviour. For far too long before this policy change thirteen years ago some students received inflated grades because of their excellent behavior and relatively poor achievement while other students received deflated grades because of their high achievement and less satisfactory behavior. I cannot help wondering if Mr. Killoran would like to fly with a pilot who got high grades in pilot school because he tried hard but had poor ability to fly the plane!

Mr. Killoran is also wrong when he talks about “rewarding” behaviours by including them in grades. I agree that the behaviours he lists are very important but grades are not rewards; they are or should be accurate summaries that provide useful information for students, parents and teachers. The Ontario school system does “grade learning skills as well as knowledge of course content” and it is by separating achievement and learning skills that the importance of the learning skills is highlighted. The Ontario Ministry of Education made this importance even stronger when the learning skills were moved alongside the grade for achievement for each subject in the most recent version of the high school report card. In the first version of the report card used from 1999 till 2011 (approximately) the learning skills were on the right hand side of the report card separated from the achievement grade, a placement which some saw as indicating lower importance.

There are many reasons why it is inappropriate to use zeros, the main one being that when a student is given a zero they are effectively being told that they do not need to do the assignment. This is the opposite of accountability; the way to make students accountable is to say ‘until you provide this critical piece of evidence of your academic achievement your grade is “I” for incomplete.’  This is an accurate communication and puts the responsibility clearly where it should be – on the student. If Mr. Killoran does not hand his grades in on time the Principal does not say you don’t have to submit them, he is told his work is incomplete and to get them in promptly. This is what a grade of incomplete also accomplishes for students.

The final issue that Mr. Killoran addresses is the “most-recent, most consistent” approach to grading. He says that this “bears no relation to how students are graded in university or how they are evaluated in the work-place” and again he is wrong.  Learning is a cumulative and developmental process and what evaluators of students and workers want is continuous improvement. This requires ongoing effort and learning but what is emphasized when it is time to make an evaluation is the more recent achievement. For example, it makes no sense to include in the end-of-year evaluation of a student’s reading and writing skills how they were performing in September because with good teaching – and good learning – most students are at a completely different level of achievement at the end of the year.

Mr. Killoran’s “approach to grading is well-intentioned but it does students no favours. Skills like meeting deadlines, showing up on time, and working hard (do) matter in the real world.” It is made clear that they matter in the school system by separating achievement from learning skills and reporting on each, and that is exactly what the Ontario Ministry of Education’s policy requires and the Ontario report cards provide.


Ken O’Connor, an edu-babbler with 23 years classroom experience and ten years as a Board Curriculum Coordinator.


Some members of the fledgling CAfLN met face-to-face for the first time at the Canadian Society for Studies in Education (CSSE) meetings that were held in Victoria in June.  We had a chance to introduce CAfLN at the pre-conference hosted by CATE (Canadian Association of Teacher Educators).  This session focused on assessment issues within teacher education programs and we were a perfect fit. Lorna Earl, Paige Fisher, Robin Tierney and Martha Koch distributed post cards and told the group a little about our plans.  It was clear that there is considerable enthusiasm for Assessment For Learning among Canadian teacher educators and lots of excellent ideas about how we might connect and work more closely across the country. It was also clear that there is a need for a Pan Canadian conversation about the field of classroom assessment and Assessment for Learning, in particular. 

Following the session, CAfLN hosted an informal session of sharing and “getting to know you” at a local Victoria pub, which was attended by about 40 people.  Conversation flowed; connections were made and ideas were volleyed from province to province (figuratively).  Since CAfLN is a network, it depends on its members to move it where they want it to go.  As a result of the social , some new connections were formed, and previous connections re-established, which we hope will continue to be the case whenever we gather – face-to-face or virtually.  

CAfLN hopes to have these “pop-up” network meetings wherever and whenever our members gather across the country.  Let us know if you have an idea for the next one.  Get involved – this is your CAfLN.  To paraphrase Pogo, my favourite cartoon character, “I have seen the future of Assessment for Learning; and it is us!”

CAfLN is Looking for Annotated Bibliographies

CAfLN is looking for Annotated Bibliographies related to Assessment for Learning and associated areas for posting on the CAfLN website.  If you or any of your colleagues or students have completed a bibligraphy that you are willing to share, please contact Robin Tierney to arrange for it to be reviewed and posted.  Each submission will be attributed to its creator on the website.