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Educators, as well as many parents, are familiar with the term “formative assessment.” Big words, but a simple concept. Formative assessment is ongoing, and it provides students with feedback that is intended to help them improve and grow. After determining what students already know and can do, educators work with them to make plans for improvement.

A healthy school community needs formative assessment too. This article is about ways to find out how healthy your school is and then decide what steps to take next.

Why Assess?
You don’t know where to go if you don’t know where you are! So it’s important to take the time to assess your school community before planning and implementing future programs.

Since a school community can be large and diverse, it’s likely that no one person is familiar with what is happening in all areas. A quick asset-mapping exercise (discussing together all the good stuff going on in the school and the supports already in place) will help you to:

  • identify the things you are already doing well
  • identify the gaps and areas of need
  • identify partners and demonstrate their level of commitment to health
  • provide a baseline measurement that allows you to look back later and identify the improvements you’ve made

The Formative Assessment Process
To continually grow as a healthy school, consider taking some of the following steps each year.  Here are some suggestions to guide you:

  • Use an appropriate assessment tool to get a comprehensive look at where you are now. To get a complete picture, use the tool with as many stakeholders as possible.
  • Form a committee to review the results.
  • Develop an action plan based on your findings. Be sure to start with specific, measureable, achievable, realistic and timely (SMART) goals.
  • Implement your plan. Involve as many people as possible so as to share the work load.
  • After an appropriate length of time, use the assessment tool again to evaluate your success.
  • Start the process all over again.

Two key healthy school assessment tools are available to all schools in Alberta.

The Healthy School Planner, developed by the Joint Consortium for School Health, is designed to help Canadian schools create healthier environments. It provides a method of assessing the overall state of the environment as well as specific areas, for example, healthy eating, physical activity or tobacco. Committees complete the tool as a group and use the results to improve health at their school.

The Health Assessment Tool for Schools (HATS) developed by Ever Active Schools is a series of checklists. Essentially, the HATS measures a school’s capacity to promote health.  This tool is based on the essential elements of the 4 E’s (Education, Everyone, Environment and Evidence) that help school communities define practices and programs to positively influence health behaviours in the areas of active living, healthy eating and mental well-being. Action teams complete the online tool individually, and a summary is provided to the school leader.  The results are then used to develop yearly action plans.

Decide where to go by figuring out where you are. Regular assessment is key to successful implementation. Use the available assessment tools, involve your entire school community and plan for success. Then, assess again.

Learn More
Ever Active Schools
Ever Active Schools is the provincial leader for implementing the health promoting schools approach. Sign up as an associate (free!) and access the Health Assessment Tool for Schools each spring, as well as other planning and implementation supports.

Joint Consortium for School Health
The Joint Consortium for School Health is a leader in supporting the advancement of comprehensive school health in Canada. Its membership is made up of key health and education representatives responsible for school health within each province and territory along with the federal government.

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