Assessing Multiliteracies

How can the development of optimal multiliteracy learning environments be supported by large-scale assessment policies and practices?

What drives curriculum? The answer is standardized testing or large scale assessment. Large-scale assessment policies guide what is taught and how. In traditional standardized testing the states set the standards, textbooks are created to align with the standards, teachers use the textbooks to teach the standards, and then students are assessed using a large-scale assessment. Mary Kalantzis, Bill Cope, and Andrew Harvey refer to this type of learning and assessment as the “Basics of Old Learning”. They relate this process to a factory. “Henry Ford knew what was best for his customers – 'any color you like, so long as it’s black' - and the state knew what was best for children. And in a way, teachers became a bit like production line workers, slaves to the syllabus, the textbooks and the examination system.” (Kalantzis, Cope & Harvey 2003) These types of assessments are used to measure numeracy and literacy. Since curriculum is assessment driven then in order to develop an optimal multiliteracy learning environment a large-scale assessment policy and practice needs to be created to drive this new curriculum. Herein lies the challenge, how does one assess multiliteracies and the skills that successful learners need in today’s society? Traditional standardized testing does not match the skills that will be required to be a successful learner today and in the future. So, what will successful learners of the 21st Century look like?

"Knowledge today is highly situated, rapidly changing and more diverse than ever." (Johnson & Kress 2007) Students of the 21st Century will need to possess certain skills. The Social Studies Department at Weymouth High School created this video on youtube to describe 21st Century Skills and ask the question, "How do we get there?"

According to Kalantzis, Cope, and Harvey, 2003, successful learners of the 21st Century will need to possess the following skills:

- Broad Knowledgeability

- Diverse Intelligence

- Autonomy

- Collaboration

- Flexibility

- Problem Solving Skills

- Self directed designer of their own learning experiences who uses multiple modes through which to represent meaning.

- Use a different set of tools to make meaning

Do current large-scale assessments match these skills? The answer is "no". Traditional large-scale assessments are individualized, rely on memory, and measure limited kinds of intelligence. As a teacher I loved this quote, "Tests are an excellent measure of a person's ability to do tests, and not much else." (Kalantzis, Cope, & Harvey 2003) Clearly the challenge becomes what types of assessment best match and measure the skills of these 21st Century Learners?

What role might portfolio assessment play in legitimating diverse literacy accomplishments?

Portfolio assessment will play a very important role in assessing skills such as, collaboration, flexibility, and creative problem solving. Portfolios lend themselves to be a representation of the skills these 21st century learners will need to possess. “A Broad range of assessment strategies, focused on the performance of tasks, the planning and completion of projects, group work and the presentation of portfolio work, would better reflect these required skills.” (Kalantzis, Cope, &Harvey 2003)

What options exist for integrating alternative assessments with province-wide assessment policies and practices?

There are several types of alternative assessment that could be integrated in order to better meet the needs of successful students in the 21st Century. Here are some suggestions of alternative assessments: Alternative Assessments (Kalantzis, Cope, & Harvey, 2003)

*Project Assessment - Measures the student's ability in "real life" tasks and situations. This type of assessment measures broad knowledgeability, some measurement of multiple intelligences (communicative, analytical, or creative).

*Performance Assessment - A teacher observation of a student's performance on a task. Rubrics are often used. This type of assessment is based on planning, doing, and the completion of a task. It would measure a wide range of skills, including organization and problem solving.
*Group Assessment - Measures collaborative skills.

*Portfolio Assessment - Collection of work, unique experiences, learning achievements. Can be used to measure individual strengths of diverse individuals.

Forms of Alternative Assessment are clearly defined and characteristics of each are listed on the Miami Museum of Science - Alternative Assessment Definitions Web-page at the following address:

Teachers, administrators, students or anyone interested in learning more about how to use rubrics to assess can go the this interactive web-site, 

Clearly if curriculum is created based on assessment, this is the key to developing multiliteracy learning environments. Today's assessments do not match the skills that will be needed in the future. If we want to change curriculum we must first look at the way we assess what is learned and ensure that it meets the needs of the students.

Hammet, R. F. (2007). Assessment and new literacies. E-Learning, 4(3).

Johnson, D. & Kress, G. (2003) Globisation, literacy, and society: Redesigning pedagogy and assessment. Assessment in Education, 10(1).

Kalantzis, M., Cope, B., & Harvey, A. (2003). Assessing multiliteracies and the newbasics. Assessment in Education, 10(1).