Delving into the issues of assessment of Multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996) I examined Ontario’s current policy document for assessment in its schools: Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010). Overall, this document shifts its focus of assessment from summative to formative-based assessment practices mentioning key aspects to garner student success: their individual abilities and interests, which must be acknowledged and valued within Ontario schools (p. 1). It is upon these instances of student-centered discourse within the policy document that I believe Multiliteracies, which values student ability and interests as its foundation, has the opportunity to align with policy. Initially, I was hopeful that this document was moving Ontario education in a progressive way.
However, though student ability and interest seem to be its central focus, it is clear in the document that standardized testing is an important part of assessment discourse even though research suggests these large-scale tests have a negative impact on student motivation. In their research review, Harlen & Crick (2003) state, “the use of tests [standardized and performance-based testing] not only inhibits the practice of formative assessment but has a negative impact on motivation for learning” (p. 170). Harlen & Crick also make mention in their research review that a heavy reliance on large-scale testing tends to reduce the amount of time spent on formative assessments, again negatively affecting students’ motivations to learn. Though research suggests negative effects of standardized testing on student learning (Marshall, 2009), Kalantzis, Cope & Harvey (2003) posit that “standardised basic skills testing regimes are increasing”, and, consequently, assessment practices and curriculum focuses reflect these “back to basics” ideologies (p. 16), which is less explicitly stated within the Ontario policy document. It is worthy to note that the Growing Success document relies on evidence researched by Harlen & Crick’s work to justify the shift towards more formative-based student assessment.
Working Within Contradictions
In Growing Success (2010) the emphasis focuses on assessments for learning, assessment as learning, and assessment of learning. The first two types of assessment being formative strategies, while the last is summative. Assessment, in this document, is defined as “a set of actions undertaken by the teacher and the student to gather information about student learning” (p. 29). Under this definition, the student plays an important role in the assessment process. Rather than a focus on end-product process is given credence. Understanding that literacies are situated (Barton, Hamilton & Ivanič, 2000) within the sociocultural experiences of students, Multiliteracies as a pedagogical strategy and its subsequent assessment would fit in under the Ontario Ministry of Education’s assessment for learning strategies as the document encourages a diversity of assessment tools making room for new literacies, i.e. digital technologies, to be used within the classroom,
teachers will obtain assessment information through a variety of means, which may include formal and informal observations, discussions, learning conversations, questioning, conferences, homework, tasks done in groups, demonstrations, projects, portfolios, developmental continua, performances, peer and self-assessments, self-reflections, essays, and tests… including strategies such as sharing learning goals and success criteria, providing feedback in relation to goals, and developing students’ ability to self-assess – as a way of increasing students’ engagement in and commitment to learning (p. 28).
Considering collaborative construction of knowledge and learning, and literacy as a situated practice Brown, Lockyer and Caputi (2010) also call for strong formative assessments to capture the learning process with 21st century literacies, which include the changing sociocultural demographic of schools as well as the prevalence and pervasiveness of digital technologies, “students should actively be involved in the construction of meaning through a collaborative, problem-solving approach. Students need to be literate in multiple modes where a combination of literacies is necessary to develop multiple literacy skills” (p. 192-193).
Though the policy may leave room for Multiliteracies with its need for new types of formative assessments, in Growing Success (2010) there is no definition of literacy or learning, which are not included in their glossary of terms. As such, the reader does not have a clear idea of what these concepts mean to the Ontario Ministry of Education (OME) or how they influence its policy. Learning is only referred in relation to goals and assessment. Consistently, the goal for student learning is stated to be that of a developed independent and autonomous learner (OME, 2010, p. 28). By definition, to be autonomous is suggestive of independence, however, by separating these two terms “independent and autonomous” it may suggest that the OMEs underpinning belief is that learning is an isolated event, devoid of its situatedness within sociocultural experiences (Barton, Hamilton & Ivanič, 2000; Street, 1984). Scholars such as Kalantzis et al. (2003) use the term autonomous as a characteristic of the modern learner, however, the use is suggestive of independence and self-direction, students who are “designers of their own learning experiences in collaboration with others as well as by themselves” (p. 17).
Thus, the dichotomy remains within the Ontario policy that though learning in process will include a focus on collaboration and group work with teachers and peers, co-constructing knowledge together, in the end students are to remain isolated learners and assessed summatively as such, “assignments for evaluation may involve group projects as long as each students’ work within the group project is evaluated independently and assigned an individual mark, as opposed to a common group mark” (p. 39). My contention is that in this way, the policy demonstrates that students will be able to work independently and autonomously in order justify ability to participate in large-scale, standardized testing.
Barton, D., Hamilton, M. & Ivanič, R. (2000). Situated literacies: Reading and writing in context. London: Routledge.
Brown, I., Lockyer, L. & Caputi, P. (2010). Multiliteracies and assessment practice. In Cole, D.R. & Pullen, D.L. (Eds.). Multiliteracies in motion: Current theory and practice. pp. 191-206. New York: Routledge.
Harlen, W. & Crick, R.D. (2003). Testing and motivation for learning. Assessment in Education. 10(2), 169-207.
Kalantzis, M., Cope B. & Harvey, A. (2003). Assessing mulitliteracies and the new basics. Assessment in Education. 10(1), 15-26.
Marshall, J. (2009). Divided against ourselves: Standards, assessments, and adolescent literacy. In Christenbury, L., Bomer, R. & Smagorinsky, P. (Eds.). pp. 113-1125. Handbook of adolescent literacy research. New York: The Guilford Press.
New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.
Ontario, Ministry of Education. (2010). Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools. Retrieved at