Wednesday, May 13, 2015

3 Reasons why Alberta's Provincial Achievement Tests are inappropriate

Today I have to administer a standardized test for the Alberta government. (Here's how I live with myself)

In Alberta, we have Provincial Achievement Tests and I have to administer Part A for Language Arts. My students are required to write a news article and a story in 2 hours.

Here are 3 reasons why this test is not an appropriate use of our limited time, effort and resources.

1. Collaboration should not be Cheating. My students read and write almost every single class. My students sit at tables with their laptops, devices and peers so that they can accelerate and enrich their learning by collaborating. While students are encouraged to work together during our 50 minute classes, we routinely have 15 minutes of silent reading and writing; however, I would never ask students to complete anything that is worth doing in complete isolation from their peers, parents, books or the Internet. I've worked hard to encourage my students to see collaboration as a critical characteristic of learning.

Alfie Kohn reminds us that, "I want to see what you can do not what your neighbour can do" is really just code for "I want to see what you can do artificially deprived of the skills and help of the people around you. Rather than seeing how much more you can accomplish in a well functioning team that's more authentic like real life."

In the real world, there simply aren't that many times you are expected to solve a problem or perform a task in complete isolation - and even if you were, it would be awfully archaic to refuse you the opportunity to reach out for the help you needed to get the task done.

2. Writing should not be canned or rushed. It's true that a written response standardized test is better than multiple choice but that isn't saying much. In my class, we read and write every single class -- we blog a lot. The few blog posts that we actually start and finish on the same day are some of the most shallow and superficial writing my students produce. My students' best writing involves a process that takes days and sometimes weeks. This year, we have written many current event blog posts and news articles where the students play an active role in researching primary and secondary sources to discover the who, what, where, when, why and how for real events.

In sharp contrast, this test shutters up the real world and reduces authentic student research to reading a pre-packaged point-form list of fiction-filled "facts" that merely demands students regurgitate point-form into sentences. This is writing's equivalent to paint-by-numbers.

3. There is no substitute for what teachers and parents observe while children are learning. Through out the year, I tell parents not to bother wasting their time looking at their child's marks on Pearson's PowerSchool. If anyone wants to know the extent to which my students are learning, you can look at their blog which features a wide-range of writing assignments that occur over a 10 month period.

In my classroom, testsandgrades are replaced with projects and performances collected in portfolios.

I routinely remind myself of a powerful classroom teacher's testimony:
In the real world of learning, tests, and reports and worksheets aren't the most meaningful way to understand a person's growth, they're just convenient ways in a system of schooling that's based on mass production... I assess my students by looking at their work, by talking with them, by making informal observations along the way. I don't need any means of appraisal outside my own observations and the student's work, which is demonstration enough of thinking, their growth, their knowledge, and their attitudes over time.

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