Measuring What Matters: Phase 3 progress report

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December 15, 2016

This report provides an update on People for Education’s Measuring What Matters (MWM) initiative, including some of the early findings coming out of the school field trials.  Read the full report.

… it isn’t about what [students] understand about seasonal changes in my science curriculum, it’s how they’re thinking critically and asking questions around those ideas within Science.’ I see [Measuring What Matters] as a framework that gives greater purpose to what we are doing. And values the things we know are intrinsically important.
                                                             Science teacher participating in field trials

Measuring What Matters envisions a public education system that:

  • supports all students to develop the competencies and skills they need to live happy, healthy, economically secure, civically engaged lives; and
  • strengthens Canada—our society, our economy, our environment—by graduating young people with the skills to meet the challenges our country faces.

This vision can be achieved by:

  • setting broad and balanced goals for student success that include numeracy, literacy, creativity, social-emotional learning, health, and citizenship; and
  • ensuring that these goals drive policy, practice, funding, and accountability.

The goal of the Measuring What Matters is to propose a renewed framework for education that:

  • includes a concrete set of competencies and learning conditions in the areas of creativity and innovation, citizenship, mental and physical health, and social-emotional learning;
  • suggests appropriate assessment, evaluation and measurement practices/processes at the classroom, school and jurisdictional level;
  • supports effective classroom and school practices in foundational areas proven to develop students’ capacity for long-term success; and
  • provides parents and the broader public with understandable information about student and system progress in broad areas of learning.

Measuring What Matters:

Phase one (2013–14)

In the first year, we laid the foundations for the project by reviewing the research on broad areas of learning, and holding public consultations focused on identifying the skills that students need to be successful in school and in life.

Phase two (2014–15)

Academic experts were recruited to examine each of the key learning domains, articulate their importance for student success, and identify potential ways that they could be assessed. They conducted reviews of Ontario’s curriculum and policy to identify where and how each domain is currently recognized, and developed a preliminary set of core competencies, skills, and learning conditions for their domains. These competencies and conditions were viewed as foundational to all curriculum areas, including literacy and numeracy.

Phase 3 (2015 – 2016)

In this phase, the MWM project focused on:

1) Field testing:

Eighty educators in 26 publicly funded schools and seven school boards tested the competencies in their classrooms and schools. Each field trial team designed and implemented a set of activities that were integrated within their ongoing work.

Teacher Kim Stolys talks about her participation in the field trials.

Several themes emerged:

  • The work aligned with participants’ professional values as educators. It resonated with what they felt were central in learning experiences, but that often did not get the same attention as academic achievement.
  • Educators took a range of approaches in their use of the MWM competency framework. Some took a more narrow focus, addressing one or two competencies in a single domain; others explored combinations of competencies from several domain areas. The individuality in what educators focused on, and how they investigated it, demonstrates how personalized this work is, and how important it is to protect non-standardized learning contexts.
  • There appears to be an inextricable and dynamic link between learning conditions and specific competencies that students express: learning conditions frame and support the expression of specific competencies and, conversely, the focus on specific competencies in relation to teaching, learning, and assessment supports teachers in exploring a greater range of possible conditions and/or learning opportunities.
  • Strong interrelationships between the domains were evident across the study.
  • The specific lexicon or “language of learning” of the competencies helped define sometimes broad but ambiguous areas of learning. The language gave educators clear pathways into actions and planning in classrooms, created opportunities to communicate with each other, and to generate new conditions.
  • The framework supported broadening perspectives on where learning occurs in schools. A number of schools explored student experiences outside of the classroom, broadening the learning space beyond specific, situated moments in scheduled classroom times to include the whole school environment.

2) Consultation:

People for Education convened a two-day consultation with educational measurement experts, policy makers, and practitioners from across Canada, to provide advice on whole-system measurement (from classroom assessment to school- and board-level assessments, up to jurisdictional-level measures), and respond to the preliminary observations from the field trials. Participants recommended focusing on the long-term nature and potentially far-reaching implications of the framework. They also highlighted the complexity and challenges in any dialogue about measurement or about “what matters most.”

3) Convening and partnerships:

People for Education has convened two working tables – one focused on integrating goals for children and youth across sectors serving children and youth, including Ontario ministries and non-governmental organizations, and one focused on articulating aligned goals from kindergarten through to post-secondary education and employment. We are also active partners with the McConnell Foundation’s national WellAhead project, the Brookings Institution’s International Breadth of Learning initiative, and Ophea Canada’s Healthy School Certification project.

Joyce Kinyanjui, Program Manager at Women Educational Researchers of Kenya (WERK), and one of the Brooking Institution’s project partners, talks about the skills students need for future success.

Next Steps:

Over the 2016-2017 school year:

  • The field trials will be completed.
  • People for Education will convene expert working groups to further develop the Measuring What Matters framework in the areas of classroom practices, equity in education, and measurement.
  • In the spring of 2017, a Measuring What Matters discussion paper will be released, outlining the elements and implications of a renewed accountability and measurement framework. The discussion paper will form the basis of a further series of consultation with education stakeholders.

A final version of the proposal for a new accountability and measurement framework for education will be released in the spring of 2018.