Case Study: Nicola Valley Institute of Technology
Since 2011, over 900 students in 50 or more communities have accessed NVIT’s Community Based Assessment (CBA) service. NVIT piloted an overall assessment process in three communities where NVIT anticipated program offerings. With the pilot assessments deemed successful, the Registrar and Director of Students, Kylie Thomas, presented a project plan to provide the CBA as an ongoing service to communities across the province. The goal was to offer the CBA service to 250 learners in 15 Aboriginal communities throughout the province. The CBA is delivered in a few different contexts:
- At the request of a community – Generally, in this case, the community is planning to provide educational services to its members and requires a clear idea of the readiness of learners to enter a particular program or the level of upgrading required to prepare learners for the delivery of educational programming in the future. Alternatively, the community’s education department may simply want to know the general skill level of its members.
- In partnership with an organization, community or another post-secondary institute as part of an existing program – Some examples include administering TOWES assessments at program entry and exit for the Emergency Responder Program delivered by the Justice Institute of British Columbia in remote communities, administering ACCUPLACER assessments as part of the Active Measures program at Westbank First Nation, or administering ACCUPLACER as part of an employment skills or essential skills program (with Sage Trainers or Community Futures Cariboo Chilcotin (CFDC)).
- In advance of an NVIT community education program delivery - For example, completing a CBA in advance of an upcoming delivery of the Chemical Addictions program to gauge learner readiness.
Below is a quick outline of a CBA from start to finish:
- Pre-Assessment Planning
- Opening Prayer (Elder)
- Introductions & Icebreaker activity
- Circle discussion: What is your best memory about learning? The purpose of this is to set a positive framework around education from the very beginning of the assessment and to negate negativity or hostility towards the assessment
- Paperwork – Students complete information releases and NVIT application forms
- Group Review of English and Math
- Assessment Writing
- Results are evaluated and delivered to each learner in a private space
- Results are always delivered from a strength-based perspective about the possibilities of education rather than the obstacles the learner will face
- An individual education plan is created based on the face-to-face discussion with the facilitator
- Each learner receives their results and relevant information in the mail
- The community receives a summary of all results and individual academic levels for each learner
Purpose & Goals
The overall goal of a CBA, regardless of the context in which it has been requested, is that by providing respectful, relevant and meaningful assessment experiences founded on learner-centred principles, there will be an increase in assessment completers – possibly resulting in more Aboriginal learners in the B.C. post-secondary system. From an institutional planning perspective, understanding the academic level of Aboriginal learners in communities across B.C. assists in strategic planning related to program offerings and deliveries both on-campus and in community.
On a micro-level, in terms of the individual learner, the goal is to reduce ‘test-anxiety’ in a fun, relaxed and informal atmosphere, recognizing that learners may have experienced trauma themselves, or inter-generationally, during their educational experience. The purpose is to provide each learner with a snapshot of their current academic level. The goal is to weave the assessment experience, as well as the results, into their own personal journey, whether or not this includes upgrading, a career goal or returning to school. Learners are provided with as much information as possible related to their educational goals, regardless of where they choose to study, both during the post-assessment face-to-face meeting and included with the assessment results letter mailed to the student.
Challenges & Future Plans
One challenge is that although the ACCUPLACER is a widely-used and recognized assessment tool by the post-secondary system, it is not accepted at all institutions for admission to all programs. Even though a learner has completed an assessment through a CBA, they may still have to write using a different tool (i.e., ABLE, LPI, etc.) or may be required to re-write the assessment at the institution. When meeting with learners post-assessment, the facilitator tries to predict this requirement based on program/institution interest of the learner, but it is not always possible to plan for this and naturally provides frustration for the learner who is not keen on rewriting an assessment. In this case, the hope is that the initial assessment has eased the learner’s anxiety around assessments and has prepared them for another assessment. NVIT plans to bring greater awareness to the value of the ACCUPLACER and NVIT’s evaluation of a learner academic level to other post-secondary institutes as these issues arise.
In most rural communities, a paper-based assessment must be used as there is limited access to computers or internet-connected computers. In some communities, there are work stations available but not necessarily enough for the entire group. Even when pre-assessment arrangements determine that computers are available to administer the ACCUPLACER, the organizer always plans to deliver the paper-based assessment as a back-up plan. In the event of an internet-outage, or change of available computer space, it is crucial to be prepared to administer the paper-based assessment. Having both options available is also beneficial as often there are learners with limited computer literacy who prefer to use paper over a technology-based assessment tool. As mentioned above, it is important to remain adaptable and flexible with each learner. The assessment should, when possible, cause the least amount of stress and anxiety for the learner.
Unforeseen circumstances such as a death or tragedy in the community lead to last minute changes, cancellations or lack of participation. NVIT works with the community to reschedule the planned CBA in this situation.
The value of the CBA for the learner, community and for NVIT is tremendous. NVIT has just completed a pilot of Phase Two of the CBA project. This project involves the facilitator visiting ahead of planned programming not only to assess each prospective learner, but also to act as a “navigator” to guide the learner through their educational journey. This includes helping the student understand admission, assessments, registration and resources available to them during their study (disability services, tutoring, local supports, counselling, emergency aid, etc.), as well as their program graduation requirements, and answering any questions the learner might have. This also provides an opportunity to identify potential barriers or issues for early intervention. It is anticipated this will become a formal project and will result in additional reporting.
Summary of Leading Practices for Culturally-Appropriate Assessment and Benchmarking
In 2012 the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training (“the Ministry”) launched the Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Policy Framework and Action Plan, which commits to improving outcomes for Indigenous learners. A key objective of the Policy Framework is that public post-secondary institutions will implement policies, programs and services based on leading practices.
The Ministry has since developed materials on leading practices—including on advisory councils, gathering places, Indigenous student housing, partnerships, transitions, mentoring, Indigenous knowledge, and assessment and benchmarking--that have been reviewed by the B.C. Aboriginal Post-Secondary Coordinators, Indigenous Leadership Roundtable, Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Partners, First Nations Education Steering Committee and Indigenous Adult and Higher Learning Association.
The following summary is intended to assist faculty, administrators and staff at post-secondary institutions to implement leading practices in assessment and benchmarking – whether that be making improvements to existing practices or in establishing new ones.
(A) Pre-Assessment Leading Practices
- Provide enough preparation and time to encourage respectful working relationships. Relationships between institution and community staff. The focus to understand the broader context of Indigenous learner needs, and the available resources to address them.
- Arrange suitable space, technology and assessment tools, particularly when supporting smaller communities.
- Develop ways to make sure learner records and forms get submitted before starting assessment.
- Create an individualized learning plan for each community learner. Create the plan early in the pre-assessment phase and while institution staff are in the community.
- Provide practice material (web links to resources if required), and chances for review before the assessment.
- Ensure that test instruments are culturally inclusive, bias-reduced and generate many data/methods to improve decision making.
- Plan for Elder, cultural support resources and counselling before, during, and after the assessment.
- Build trust with learners. Ensure that learners have an upfront overview of the assessment process and purpose.
(B) During Assessment Leading Practices
- Integrate cultural elements into the assessment room to offer the learner a source of comfort.
- Ensure that the learner understands that the assessment process and purpose is not a final step. Assessment is the first step in the education/training or learning plan.
- Use alternative methods, such as dialogue, letter writing and problem solving to assess learner skill levels.
- Provide learners with in-person feedback. Feedback that use cultural debriefing tools, e.g., personal oral story, to discover the unique needs of each learner. Feedback to use to construct relevant, individualized education/training and career plans.
(C) Post-Assessment Leading Practices
- Use strength-based advising to identify and build on learner strengths.
- Provide learners the chance to explore and identify other assessment methods that best fit their needs.
- Ensure learners are aware of the academic, cultural, personal and financial supports available. Support for their education/training and career plans.
- Provide opportunities to explore upgrading and other options to get learners into their chosen programs, etc.
- Promote learner independence by teaching and encouraging online self-registration while being sensitive to the technological capacity within the community.
- Debrief effectiveness of the assessment process, including accommodation for disabilities. Identify barriers and ways to provide learners with continued support.
- Facilitate initial and ongoing communication between band education coordinators and upgrading instructors to prevent misunderstandings about the placement process and purpose.
(D) Benchmarking Leading Practices
- Adopt benchmarks for describing, measuring and recognizing proficiency in literacy, essential skills and adult upgrading. Use measures/tools created or selected in collaboration with the community.
- Use benchmarking tools that assess the progress of adult literacy learners in community literacy programs. Tools to measure and document a learner’s skill level in five domains (math, reading, writing, oral communications, information technology and participation). Tools used at various points (e.g. intake and exit points), including quarterly or midway assessment points, in the learning process so the learner has a chance to address any areas for improvement.
- Adopt First Nations language benchmarks, where they exist, to assess proficiency, progress and ability in First Nations language acquisition, comprehension and speaking (and/or fluency).
- Understand that benchmarks are a guide to learning, not a prescription, and they do not assume a standardized curriculum.
- Encourage the use, development and sharing of resources and research. Resources on integrating cultural practices, test instruments, and tools for adult literacy and upgrading. All to promote emerging Indigenous-focused standards in program assessments.