Friday, June 10, 2011

Victims of testing

I wrote a post that asked the question are standardized tests worth it. Here's a brilliant comment left by John Robinson:

The really sad part to the strong push for standardized testing is that none of it is about the kids. When you can subject an eight or nine year child to four or more hours of standardized testing, it can't possibly be about the child. Standardized testing in its current form is all about adults. It's about politicians and policy makers who want to label teachers as passing and failing, in spite of testing's imperfection. It's also an opportunity for companies and corporations to get their hands on already scarce education funds.

I find it sadly ironic that standardized testing victimizes the very people it claims to serve.

Adults play politics with education at our children's peril.

1 comment:

  1. I have been wrestling with the ideas about testing and assessment that are the subject of many blogs. One of my activities was to respond to one of your earlier blogs (http://www.joebower.org/2011/06/do-i-serve-you-or-are-you-to-support-me.html) that spoke to the effectiveness of classroom observation.

    I think it is important to ground my response to this topic with a personal story that was likely only possible because of my work (educational publisher) and my role as a parent (father of two daughters with very different learning tools and styles). My younger daughter had completed her high school diploma requirements (for Ontario) and had decided she wanted to go to post secondary education but wasn’t ready to take on the rigours of an academic undergraduate program. She applied to the Outdoor Recreational Program at Seneca College. Her marks were more than adequate for acceptance, but one of the requirements was to write a standardized test to ascertain her skill and fluency with language. Although she had completed her high school program, she had had to overcome a learning disability (Dyslexia). She was only able to independently read a novel in Grade 7 but her other skills, and school and parental support protected her from rejecting school. Now at seventeen, she was well on her way to being able to be an effective reader and writer. Her confidence did not include feeling positive about confronting a standardized test.

    I was able to determine what the test was going to be and, equally important, was able to acquire that test (and answer sheet). She practiced the test a number of times and was able to master it sufficiently so that she felt confident enough to take the test at Seneca. She passed the test (scores were not actually ever shared), went on to complete the program. On completing the program, she decided she was not ready to benefit from an undergraduate education. She graduated from an honours program and has also completed two post graduated programs related to her field of study. For her testing could have been the disaster that could have undone the work the public school system (and her parents) accomplished and negatively impacted her whole life.

    This is one of my cases against standardized testing.

    Despite this, I believe broad-based assessment needs to be discussed. Education is virtually unique in that there are no ways to easily ensure that learners are successful. At an individual or class level, effective teachers and schools intuitively know if and when they are succeeding on both an individual and cohort level. Let me proceed on the premise that teachers and schools defy the imperative of the bell curve. By that I mean, there is only one tail on the bell curve and it encompasses excellent practitioners. and Every one of the remaining practitioners are all skewed to the positive side of the graph. In effect, there are no ineffective teachers. (Ineffective teachers do not equal bad people.) How does a learning ecosystem that encompasses about 5,000,000 learners and 250,000 school educators (approximate Canadian numbers) move that whole bell curve to more effective practice without establishing a baseline for current practice? Is that necessary? What would that look like? If the school ecosystem was being successful with about 75% of its student population, is it important to increase the success rate to 80% or even 90%?

    But most importantly for me, how do I as a parent of just one of the 25% of students (1,250,00) who has been unsuccessful feel as I watch my child struggle and know the real cost of the of potential failure in terms of their future life. What can I do to prevent my child from being one of the 25% of the unsuccessful learners? How do I feel comfortable that my child is benefitting from the best possible public education?

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