GOLDSTEIN: Decline in standardized testing bad for students

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According to a new report from the Fraser Institute, provincial governments are lowering their priority on standardized testing of public school students when it is necessary to assess where their education systems stand in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“The decline in standardized testing in Canada has reduced the availability of important data essential to understanding how our education system is performing and how we can best help students improve,” said Paige MacPherson, co-author of the study. Canadian kindergarten testing to grade 12 students: regional variability, room for improvement.

In an earlier report, the fiscally conservative think tank argued that this decline has been going on for two decades, with three trends emerging during that time.

First, “standardized tests today place less emphasis on subject-specific knowledge.”

Second, they are “not given the same value as they used to be” by educators.

Third, they are “administered less often and in fewer grades.”

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According to the latest report, the best education systems conduct regular, uniform standardized testing of students at multiple grade levels, ensure testing is consistent and transparent, count toward student grades, and make school and district results available to the public. .

While each province could improve its performance, the study says Alberta has the most comprehensive program for administering standardized tests to students, while Saskatchewan, on the other hand, does not have a province-wide testing program.

Newfoundland and Labrador are expanding standardized testing, but other counties have downgraded it due to factors such as political pressure from teacher unions (BC) or a change in government (Manitoba).

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“These testing programs have been a seemingly perpetual target of teacher unions in every region of Canada and, indeed, in some provinces, such as British Columbia, testing has been weakened across the province,” the study says.

Nearly every province has canceled or lowered the importance of standardized testing during the pandemic because of widespread disruptions to the academic year and increased online versus classroom learning, requiring major adjustments for both students and educators.

Reviving and expanding standardized testing is especially important now, the study says, because “testing all students on a fair, level playing field, provides critical information to students and parents, aids student improvement” as well as providing Key data on provincial education systems to policy makers and the public.

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“Uniform performance tests that allow for external comparison — not to be confused with classroom tests taught by teachers and schools — are an important key to improving student performance and facilitating school-level comparisons.”

While polls show that the public is generally in favor of standardized testing as a way for parents to assess not only how their children are doing in school, but also how well they are taught and how their school compares to others, critics have a wide range of objections to standardized testing.

They argue that it results in “teaching to the test” at the expense of the curriculum as a whole, that they skew in favor of students living in higher-income families and neighborhoods, and that the questions are often biased against students who come from other countries. and cultures, or who live in communities where poverty is high.

They say better and more accurate results can be achieved through classroom learning and testing.

Skeptics say the reason teacher unions and many educators oppose standardized testing is that it often reveals how poorly students are taught fundamental skills in subjects like English and math, despite the rising cost of public education.

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