Last year (2013-14), our school’s Literacy PLT set out to offer our After School Literacy preparation course as a blended learning one. Each of the eight face-to-face lessons were supported with online content for those students either needing a refresher or for those unable to attend the after-school extra help classes. We hoped that parents might also be encouraged to review class content and thereby partner with us in the preparation of their students for this large scale assessment.
What did we find? Teachers liked it. Students liked it. Parents liked it. There was one problem, however. We were adopting a 21st century learning model to prepare students for an antiquated test blueprint. We were giving our students a fabulous new virtual learning environment that they enjoyed and then, on the day of the high stakes test, EQAO was asking them to sharpen their pencils.
We had not made a mistake. We did the right thing. We had flipped our lessons: provided instructional videos, animations, immediate response feedback on grammar-focused multiple-choice questions and threaded discussions and then, on the day of the test, if our equity and accountability office (EQAO) was going to expect our learners to unplug and to power down, then they had failed; not us.
We knew this would be the case but we did it any way because, for most every teacher I know, the OSSLT is not a valid or authentic assessment of any modern literacy construct. At its best, it’s a pretext for using school and board resources to allow teachers to learn. I know I learned a lot. We put into place our varied departmental theories of action by creating three-part lessons using our school’s tried and true reading and writing strategies. We set learning goals, co-constructed success criteria; used exit tickets to check for learning. We expanded our repertoire of instructional strategies.
This year EQAO is piloting a fully online OSSLT experience. I’m very curious to see if the medium will effect the message. Will question formats in particular and the test blueprint in general change or will they simply serve up a 15 year old test on a shinny new plate?