A forum for discussing what's working -- and what isn't -- in standards and assessments.

Standardized Testing

Kendra

Standardized testing has been around for over four decades; obviously it must be of some use. Considering that it is quite a controversial topic, it will be interesting to see how much longer it will be around. I’ve already heard talk that a few provinces in Canada are thinking about doing away with them. But the underlying question seems to be, how else will information be gathered about our schools in a non-biased manner? Sadly, we have to question whether we can trust in teachers and principals to be responsible to gather and share reliable and truthful information about their classes and schools.
There appears to be several similarities between standard testing in the Unites States and Canada. According to James Popham’s article, Standardized Testing Fails the Exam, four are quite obvious. First being, that the tests judge a school’s success. A school’s success should not be fully measured on the success of the students in comparison to another school’s population. A school may be full of ESL students who are very bright but in writing a standardized test, which is geared to non-ESL students, they will mark lower, making the school appear to be a lower standard to one who has no ESL students. Which brings me to number two; standardized tests are ignorant to student’s socioeconomic statuses. As stated by Popham, “this kind of test tends to measure not what students have been taught in school but what they bring to school”. Thirdly, it compares students. Who’s to say a student didn’t come in that morning after being awake half the night with a newborn sibling keeping him awake the night before, or the student who didn’t have breakfast that morning, or a student who, although in Grade 3, is at a kindergarten level. It is also affecting teachers to the point that the joy is taken out of teaching and fun is taken out of learning. Instead teachers feel the pressure to teach to the test rather than teaching to learn. They feel that they are being individually evaluated and are pressured to make their class do well on the tests.
There are few differences that I am aware of between the United States and Canada. In the US, SAT scores are part of the admission process for colleges, unlike Canada where student’s overall high school grades are considered wholly. Wealth seems to be more of a factor in the US, to the point that principals and teachers receive bonuses if they do well on standardized tests. Considering that fact, I’m sure more teachers in the US would be enticed to help her students along, that is, teach to the test in order to be self gratified with a monetary bonus for their student’s or school’s successes. Not to mention the cost of the actual testing. In my opinion, these differences, make Canada’s use of standardized testing not seem quite as greedy or questionable.
However, as stated by Popham, “using instructionally insensitive standardized tests as measuring tools, taken together, make it clear that today’s widespread method of judging schools does more than lead to invalid evaluations. Beyond that, such tests can dramatically lower the quality of education.” Is this really what we want to continue for our future generation? Perhaps if parents would take a stand and not send their children to school on these testing days, a change for the better will be seen in our education system, and the fun will return to learning.

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Homeschooling

I have been a homeschooling

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I have been a homeschooling mom for three years. With a degree in Chemistry, I have scientific process built in in everything I do, and as a chemist I find myself sometimes obsessed with measuring and analyzing the results. It is not strange then that I have researched here and there which standarized test to give to my children. Driven by this obsession more than anything else, I have given my children two ST's; a local test (I live in Puerto Rico) and a nation wide test. That rush of achievement and satisfaction that immediately follows having finally measured, of having finally "met the specification"- just as we do in the pharmaceutical industry with the products we test- this rush vanishes away immediately after, also as a good scientist, I take into account what is it that this test really measures. Yes it is widely known that they are indeed imperfect. The kind of tests that better satisfy my scientific needs regarding the education of my children are diagnostic tests. I use for Science and Math the tests from the Ministry fo Education of Singapore. The tests come with a diagnostic table which you fill after grading the tests and where you can easily see the difficiencies in your child's performance already clasified in the categories that the syllabus covers. The areas that need improvement according to the test results become my priorities for my next round of teaching. This way the testing is concentrated on the purpose of facilitating the learning process and achievement of the individual without introducing this complex array of variables associated with the comparison process between students.

Elementary Music Teacher, PEI, Canada

I for one am glad that we

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I for one am glad that we here in Canada don’t find ourselves as knee-deep in standardised testing as our friends in the United States. Perhaps the provincial nature of our education systems or maybe it’s less clout by testing companies that slows any widespread changes. Regardless, we seem to be in a better position to really assess the value of high stakes testing.

Having said that, the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT ) seems to be a step in the wrong direction. Students need to pass this exam in order to graduate and are given two chances or a specific course to do so - certainly “high-stakes.”

Perhaps a more tempered use of the results may provide a middle ground between reporting progress to stakeholders in education, and creating high-stakes / high-stress exams where success or failure depends on a “good day” in the exam room.

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