Saturday, January 17, 2009

Standardized testing in BC for students in grades 4 and 7

The National Post has an article about standardized testing in British Columbia. Like several other provinces, BC tests all its students in grades four and seven to see how well they are performing. After each school's results are given to the public, a group such as the Fraser Institute takes these results, adjusts them with data from Census Canada, and provides a score for each school. What is wrong with that?

In Ontario, I am a supply teacher for one of the Toronto area boards. The teaching is very good at all the schools where I teach. I am not writing that because I want to make teachers look good. We are great! I don't need to butter up my fellow colleagues.

Elementary students write the EQAO tests in grades three and six. These tests concentrate on reading, writing, and mathematics. The students are required to complete questions with multiple choice answers, short responses, longer story writing, and problem solving in mathematics.

What is wrong with the Fraser Institute assigning a school a score? When the Fraser Institute collects the EQAO aggregate school results, they calculate a decimal score from zero to ten and gives each school that score. One school where I have taught has several classes for gifted students. There are almost no students who require lower skilled special education. That school received a score of 1o out of 10.

A neighbouring school includes several classes for students who are developmentally delayed or have severe autism. These students do not write the EQAO tests. For some, it's a challenge just to write their names. The Fraser Institute includes their non-performance as being equivalent to receiving a zero. This distorts and lowers the Fraser score for that school.

At two other schools, parents at one school complained that their children's results were lower than those attending a neighbouring school. Those parents should have realized that many of their children are English Language Learners (formerly English as a Second Language students) while the children at the neighbouring school were less likely to be ELLs. The parents at the first school wanted to transfer their children to the neighbouring school because they had better test scores. The teachers at both schools are highly dedicated and do their best to meet the needs of their students. Some of the hardest working teachers are those who work at schools with lower test results. The results are not an indicator of how well the teachers teach. One could take the best teachers at Upper Canada College and have them teach at an under performing school. The EQAO test results for the next year may be the same or worse because those teachers would not have the time to understand and meet the needs of their new students.

Finally, in the weeks before the EQAO tests, the teachers do "teach to the test." They teach their students how to read questions and how to answer them in particular ways. Students learn little of the curriculum during those weeks. A high test result may indicate how well a student knows how to take the test, not how well he or she knows the curriculum.

As a professional, I won't suggest what parents in British Columbia should do if their children have to write the standardized tests. I will only suggest that the results may not be indicative of how their children may actually performing in school.


Anonymous said...

Eloquently put. Many teachers, understanding what you do, keep their children home during EQAO testing. ETFO encourages their members not to mark the tests. My favourite commentary comes from a talk given by the educator, Alfie Kohn, and having taught in both high and low SES areas, I thoroughly agree:
“Standardized tests are extremely good measures of the size of the houses near a school. Study after study has found that you can predict as much as 90 percent of the differences in test scores without knowing a damn thing about what’s going on in the classrooms.”
From "Test Ban Entreaty" [interview with Alfie Kohn],
Hope, January 2004
Diane Scaiff

Skinny Dipper said...

Thanks for commenting. Some of the most dedicated teachers are those who work in low SES neighbourhood schools. Some of the more enjoyable students that teachers could have come from low SES and lower English as a mother tongue neighbourhoods.

I'll take a look at the link that you suggested.

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