Thursday, December 15, 2011

Misuse of Provincial Achievement Tests

I was listening to Alberta's Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk speak about the misuses of standardized test scores when I thought of a time I saw with my own eyes how standardized test scores are misused by high schools.

For nine years I taught at a middle school. Every April, we took our grade 8 students to the high school for an orientation in preparation for their transition to high school. Every year, the gym was packed with anxious grade 8 students. Every year, the slideshow presentation went through all the cool extra-curricular clubs and interesting courses the students could choose from.

Every year, one of those slides was a graph showing how this high school outperformed other high schools in the city on the Provincial Achievement and Diploma Exams. The narrative went something like this:
Come to our school because we have good test scores which means we take academics seriously and you'll get a better education here.
Every time I had to endure this rhetoric, I would look around the gymnasium to see if others were as disgusted by this misuse of test score data as I was, and colleagues of mine (who have a very good idea how I feel about all this) would look my way and give me a smirk and a shrug.

When I shared this experience with our former Education Minister Dave Hancock, he immediately asked me:
That is ridiculous. Who is holding them accountability for this misuse of scores?
My response:
No one. But I am talking to you.
After listening to our new Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk talk about how third parties like the Fraser Institute misuse standardized test scores, and seeing for myself how even schools misuse them -- my question to Lukaszuk is this:
Keeping in mind that asking the Fraser Institute to use standardized test scores responsibly is like asking an alcoholic to drink responsibly, what are you prepared to do to ensure that standardized test scores are not misused?

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