Questionable picture of reality

As the Foundational School Assessment Tests are occurring now in the Grades 4, 7, and 10 classrooms of B.C. public schools, I believe a response to Peter Cowley’s letter on this subject is in order.

In short, Mr. Cowley’s premise is that we as taxpayers and the public should be provided with a definitive and conclusive way to compare public schools.

What Mr. Cowley is asking for is for a greater significance to be placed on the objective results of government mandated standardized testing.

There has been a huge global push over the past decade for these kinds of tests. For example, in the US, schools participated in the “No Child Left Behind” program of testing, which caused some schools beneficial to their community to be shut down.

Why? Because their scores on standardized tests were not deemed to be high enough.

As a teacher of almost 20 years in the B.C. public school system, I feel a response is in order:

Educators have been conducting types of standardized testing for a long time. All units planned across the curriculum, all lessons taught, and all tests given, emanate from a single standardized source. This is called the Integrated Resource Package (IRP), which is a large set of Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs) set down by the ministry of education.

Each teacher tests in a variety of ways over time using these learning outcomes. Every teacher reports out formally three times a year to parents based upon these outcomes.

Most people “get” what educational research has exhaustively indicated: a variety of authentic assessments over time is superior to one large test administered on a single occasion.

Then there is what I call “the issue of the reality check.” Many teachers would be happy with an effective standardized test, especially if it was not used for political ends.

But the key word is “effective.” By this, I mean something that is fundamentally different from our present FSA test. If we are going to rank schools we had better come up with an authentic way to do so.

For example, it borders on the foolish to pit a private school in a privileged area against an inner city school. What indicates success in the private school might be solid scores on a numeracy test involving higher level critical thinking skills. Conversely, what will be celebrated as success by the unsung teacher-heroes and parents at the inner city school will be very different.

This form of success might be a fetal alcohol or otherwise challenged student developing some appropriate social skills. Perhaps learning an emergent set of academic skills along the way.

Would it not be fair to say that both indicate success? Just different kinds of success. However, both are equally necessary at a societal level.

It would be very difficult to develop one standardized test that could effectively assess these divergent realities. Hence, many educators and parents are now questioning the efficacy of a “one test fits all” program.

Perhaps what should be rigorously assessed is not  so much our present B.C. or Canadian public school system which systematically ranks among the top in the world, but a set of standardized test outcomes which provide at best a questionable picture of reality.

Michael O. Jones, M. Ed.