How to Assess for Student Success
Supporting Physical Literacy Assessment
The goal of the Health and Physical Education (H&PE) curriculum is to support students in developing the skills and knowledge they’ll need to be active and healthy throughout their lives. Imagine if every student felt confident, supported and reached their goals, Ontario would be a happier and healthier place... not just today, but well into the future.
Through a joint position paper called “Addressing Quality Assessment to Support the Development of Physical Literacy Skills in Health and Physical Education,” Ophea and OASPHE—Ontario’s two provincial subject associations for H&PE —have brought forward seven key messages. The position paper provides educators with a common understanding of the purposes of physical literacy assessment, of their role in supporting students in being physically active, and of effective tools and methods for gathering evidence—all with one common goal - improving student learning.
At the core of the seven key messages lies the understanding that, with the right support and instructional/assessment strategies, every student can increase their physical literacy... meaning, when it comes to H&PE, every student can succeed.
The Seven Key Messages:
1. Physical and emotional safety is a precondition for effective learning in Health and Physical Education.
“You learn physical literacy skills by trial and error,” explains Joanne Walsh, Ophea’s Secondary H&PE Curriculum Consultant. “To take a risk and try something new, students need to know that it’s okay to make mistakes in a public space and that we’re all learning together.”
Teachers can provide physically and emotionally safe environments by following the Ontario Physical Education Safety Guidelines (and any other guidelines set out by their board); by emphasizing the importance of safety in the gym and classroom; and by fostering an inclusive learning environment that recognizes and respects the diversity of students and accommodates their individual strengths, needs and interests.
2. Assessment is an educational process for the purpose of improving student learning.
Adopting and maintaining healthy habits is a lifelong pursuit and, as such, there really is no end goal or destination.
“A focus of the curriculum is on personal ability over time rather than immediate performance results. The learning process is what’s important,” says Heather Gardner, Ophea’s Elementary H&PE Curriculum Consultant. So even though teachers must assign a value to student learning at certain intervals of the year, (i.e., progress and final reports) assessments should always be viewed as an ongoing educational process aimed at improving student learning.
“As we move forward in terms of our pedagogy and our work with students, we really have to shift our thinking away from assessment being an evaluation of performance,” says Walsh. By focusing on the process rather than the product (i.e., that final grade) teachers and students are better equipped to work together to set learning goals, co-create success criteria and give and receive regular feedback. In this way, educators can monitor student progress and adjust instructional strategies along the way to give students the greatest possible chance for success.
3. Assessment should engage students in learning, provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning over time and provide meaningful information for educators to make informed instructional decisions.
“We want students to able to set realistic and personal physical literacy goals and work toward them,” says Gardner. This begins with getting students on board with and excited about their learning. As detailed in Growing Success—the Ontario Ministry of Education’s document on assessment, evaluation and reporting—educators should engage students by having them co-create the learning goals for each lesson. Not only does this process help students to understand what is being asked within the learning goals and success criteria, but it helps to ensure that assessment criteria are predictable, fair and equitable. This does not mean, however, that every student should be evaluated in the same way. In fact, the opposite is true.
“We need to provide students with lots of opportunities to practice their skills, lots of feedback and lots of ways to demonstrate their learning,” comments Carolyn Temertzoglou, a Teacher Educator and OASPHE executive member. “This might include pausing for learning in the middle of a game or activity or doing a recap at the end of the lesson. It’s also important to place an emphasis on self-assessment, whether that’s through the use of an exit card, through journaling, or by asking students to share one thing they feel proud of that day or one thing they want to improve on.” As teachers gather this information, they can use it to make ongoing adjustments to lesson plans and assessment strategies, finding ways to support all students.
4. Physical fitness assessment results/scores should not be used as a grade.
While personal fitness assessments can play a role in helping students to understand their own strengths and areas of improvement and can provide a baseline from which to develop personal fitness goals, the results should never be directly tied to grades or used to compare one student to another.
“When you take a look at the curriculum expectations, they’re about helping students to develop their critical thinking skills. We want them to look at data and analyse it to understand what it’s telling them about their own health—not anyone else’s,” says Walsh
“Personal fitness assessments should occur multiple times over the year, provide opportunity for student choice, and most importantly, be engaging and fun!” says Gardner. When used incorrectly, the results of fitness assessments—like the beep test for cardio respiratory fitness or having students attempt to hold a plank position for a certain amount of time to test core strength—can lead to a sense of failure, which may discourage students from developing a lifelong love of physical activity: the exact opposite of the curriculum’s intent.
“Personal fitness is not synonymous with physical literacy,” Temertzoglou points out. “But by helping students to enhance their personal fitness, we can enhance their physical literacy.” When fitness tests are used, their purpose should always be to help students learn to interpret their results, set individual goals and make plans to work toward these goals while monitoring their progress over time.
5. Assessment should be used to support the development of the Living Skills.
The Living Skills—the personal, interpersonal and critical and creative thinking skills that are woven throughout the curriculum— play a key role in students’ ability to work toward personal health and fitness goals as well as to develop the resiliency and positive mental health that will see them through life’s challenges. As such, assessing students in these skills in collaboration with other specific expectations is a vital way to support their learning. “The living skills are the 21st century skills that students need to be able to navigate their world,” says Walsh.
“Using self-awareness and self-monitoring, students can evaluate what they’re doing well or areas of improvement and then use their adaptive management and coping skills or critical thinking skills to make improvements,” adds Gardner, who also points out that these skills can be applied equally to learning how to handle a stick better in floor hockey, making healthier choices around healthy eating or using strategies to support mental health.
6. The assessment of Body Mass Index (BMI) is not the role of the educator.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a weight-to-height ratio, calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. It can be a useful indicator for medical professionals of obesity or being underweight but it isn’t an accurate measure of overall fitness or health.
“BMI does not take into account muscle mass, bone density, diverse body shapes, or racial and sex differences,” explains Alyson Beben, a Public Health Educator. “Perhaps more importantly, it does not make allowances for the fact that children are still growing.” For this reason, the use of BMI assessment is not recommended under the age of 18 and if used, should only be by medical practitioner.
According to Beben, public health units occasionally work with school boards to gather data on the health and well-being of students in a region. However, if BMI is used as part of a School Health Survey, it is measured by public health nurses and the results calculated are age- and sex-specific. Furthermore, the data is used to gain insight into the health of a large population and does not include personal information linking students or schools to their results.
It is also important to consider the emotional consequences to measuring weight or BMI of a student. Practices like these could impair their self-esteem, body image and relationship with food. It also leaves students vulnerable to teasing, bullying and shaming. Doing so is not conducive to fostering an emotionally safe learning environment – which is one of the fundamental principles in H&PE.
7. Assessments used should be inclusive, student-centered, personalized and consistent throughout the year.
Being responsive to the diverse needs of students is an important role of a teacher. When addressing assessment, there are many ways educators can offer student’s choices to ensure an equitable and positive learning experience.
“Nowhere in the curriculum does it say that students must perform a particular movement skill—say, cradling a ball in lacrosse,” says Temertzoglou. She suggests using the Teaching Games for Understanding model to promote student choice while helping all students to succeed. “Instead of playing a traditional unit on lacrosse, have a unit that’s focused on territory games,” she says. “That way you expose students to a variety of lead up activities. At the end of the unit, allow students to choose a sending or carrying skill that they feel confident doing. Giving students choices allows everyone to feel competent.”
Furthermore, if a student is unable to perform a particular skill, educators can find other ways to allow them to demonstrate understanding. “There are three primary ways to gather evidence: observation, conversation and products,” says Walsh. And within these three categories, there are countless options. When it comes to observations, technology can be a powerful tool, through which students can record and play back their performance to self-assess.
In terms of “conversations,” journaling, exit cards, or even a simple thumbs up or thumbs down to demonstrate learning at the end of the lesson are all great examples that help students communicate their learning. Additionally, there are many “products” like rubrics, checklists and checkbrics (such as the ones provided by Ophea) that teachers can use and adapt to guide student assessment and self-assessment.
Whatever tools a teacher chooses to use, however, it’s important they relate back to the curriculum expectations and success criteria that was co-created with students. This will allow for consistency in assessment and predictability for students. “It’s important for students to know what the goals are so they can be more responsive and guide their own learning,” comments Walsh.
Help is only ever a click, call or conversation away!
Reflecting on the seven key messages described in this article is a great place to start, but it’s also important to reach out for support. All educators should refer to Growing Success for guidelines on assessment and can find additional resources (e-modules, videos, case studies, performance standards and more) on the EduGAINS website. Additionally, Ophea’s Teaching Tools website offers a variety of H&PE resources, including; Learn to Move, PlaySport (specifically supporting Physical Literacy skills and strategy development) Ophea’s H&PE Curriculum Resources: Grades 1-8 and Ophea's H&PE Secondary Resources (providing physical literacy information and assessment tools that support these 7 key messages). Lastly, Ophea offers the Physical Literacy: Putting it into Practice workshop to support educators in implementing the concept in their classrooms.
“I always really encourage educators to have informed professional dialogue with colleagues on a daily basis,” adds Walsh. If an educator doesn’t have access to colleagues who specialize in H&PE, there are a number of online communities they can connect with. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter offer groups and chats where educators can connect, learn, and share. There are many ways to get informed and stay connected.
Lastly, the curriculum itself remains every educator’s guide and principal resource. “The front matter is especially helpful,” says Temertzoglou. She suggests that educators refer to the section on assessment regularly as a way to reflect on their practices. After all, by staying true to the curriculum’s intention for assessment (i.e., “to guide the collection of meaningful information that will help to inform instructional decisions, promote student engagement and improve learning”) we’re likely to raise a generation of Ontario students who feel confident, supported and who want to make a lifelong commitment to healthy, active living.