Tag Archives: Testing

A Call to Review Standardized Testing in Canada


OTTAWA, ON (February 16, 2013) – The Action Canada Task Force on Standardized Testing has just released a report analyzing the place of standardized testing as an accountability measure in Canadian K-12 education systems, using Ontario as a case study focus. “A review of standardized testing in this province and others is not only timely – it’s urgently needed,” says Sébastien Després, a 2012-2013 Action Canada Fellow and co-author of the report. Després explains that when standardized testing was established in Ontario two decades ago, the Royal Commission which recommended the creation of the province’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) and the adoption of standardized testing in the province had also recommended that a five-year review be undertaken. Almost twenty years later, this review has yet to be done. Després concludes, “As things stand, the current testing system may or may not be facilitating the achievement of the education system’s range of objectives. A review of this accountability measure should be a top priority.”

Teaching is often said to be “the second most private act in which adults engage” (Dufour 1991) since it tends to take place behind closed doors, away from the view of many stakeholders. In its essence, however, teaching is a public and political act, and is fundamental to the continuing development of a citizenry that drives Canada’s global competitiveness and social and economic prosperity. Recognizing the importance of education, many jurisdictions have turned to standardized testing as a means of ensuring accountability for results. In some circles, this measure has become controversial, as stakeholders – and the public as a whole – are polarized as to whether standardized testing is an appropriate way of evaluating students and the overall effectiveness of education systems in light of their objectives and curricula.

Sébastien Després, a lecturer in Anthropology and Geography at Memorial University of Newfoundland, explains that standardized testing regimes are costly and time-consuming enterprises that can have an important impact on the classroom experience. “We know that not all students are motivated by marks and academic achievement. We also know that when these things are prioritized over others, instruction can become boring, and kids become disengaged.” The report also explores how standardized testing can impact teaching as a profession, and echoes earlier studies that show how an over-emphasis on test scores can diminish teachers’ role in determining the content and methods of instruction, casting teachers as efficiency experts who carry out instruction determined by someone else.

Standardized testing can also shift attention away from the presentation of the full breadth of a given province’s prescribed curriculum, to a narrowed focus on what they measure: literacy and numeracy. This is recognized by the EQAO, who in a recent report highlighted that “What gets measured gets attention.” Task Force member Marie-Josée Parent arranged for specially-commissioned artwork by Montreal artist Josée Pedneault and a short animated film featuring drawings from Winnipeg artist Ben Clarkson to accompany the report, a nod to the damaging effect that standardized testing regimes can have on the teaching of the arts, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and a list of other skills and competencies prescribed by provincial curricula. “Recognizing that the means by which we strive to make our education systems transparent necessarily have an impact on these systems is a good first step in a bold direction,” says Després, “and we are hopeful that this recognition will go a long way in occasioning a change in priorities from a focus on test scores to a focus on the ultimate purposes of education.”

To view the report in its entirety, visit: http://www.testingillusion.ca

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B.C. need not rely on the much-maligned FSA tests to gauge students’ skills

It is testing season in British Columbia. As thousands of students are being subjected to the BC’s Foundation Skills Assessment, ICES co-director Sandra Mathison has offered up alternatives to the much-maligned test.

Vancouver Sun (January 16, 2013)
B.C. need not rely on the much-maligned FSA tests to gauge students’ skills

As schools prepare to give the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) tests next week, it may be the last time they are administered, at least in their current form.

The discussion about alternatives to the FSAs is a sign of a healthy education system, where its constituents continually consider how best to know how schools are doing.

This is an excellent opportunity to examine alternative means to getting the snapshot of students’ literacy and numeracy skills that the FSA provides, but at great expense and with negative consequences for schools, teachers and students.

There are two viable sources of data that provide such a snapshot with significantly less disruption to teaching and learning, and that use high-quality tests administered to samples of students. These are the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP) and the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA).

The PCAP is administered by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), an intergovernmental group formed in 1967 by the provincial ministers of education. This is an assessment of reading, mathematics and science achievement administered to eighth-graders every three years. All three areas are tested in each administration of the test, although during each test administration one subject is the primary focus.

The other large-scale assessment that provides a snapshot of student achievement in basic skills is the PISA, an international assessment instituted in 1997 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. Seventy countries, including Canada, participate in the PISA.

The test alternates its focus on reading, mathematics and science achievement on a three-year cycle. Both of these testing programs recognize that school programs and curriculum can vary considerably, both across Canada and around the world. Neither assessment is tied to a particular curriculum, and the tests focus on the skills that would be considered basic for students across educational jurisdictions.

Both the PCAP and PISA include data about the context of learning, through surveys of teachers and students. Both assessments have been developed to answer big questions we all have about the quality of schools and student achievement. For example: How well are young adults prepared to meet the challenges of the future? Are they able to analyze, reason and communicate their ideas effectively? Do they have the capacity to continue learning throughout life? Are some kinds of teaching and school organization more effective than others?

Both the PCAP and PISA achieve the goal of providing comprehensive and comparable results on student achievement through the use of sampling procedures — testing a carefully selected sub-group of all students.

In 2010, 32,000 Grade 8 students from 1,600 schools across Canada took the PCAP. In 2009, 23,000 students from 1,000 schools across Canada took the PISA.

This strategy provides trustworthy evidence of students’ basic skills, and does so with less burden to schools, teachers, students and taxpayers.

In the discussion of alternatives to or re-inventions of the FSA, careful consideration ought to be given to whether its primary intended purpose may already be met by other well-established, regularly administered assessment programs that allow us to understand student achievement in B.C. in relation to other provinces and countries.

It may be that much of what we wish to capture in the snapshot of how well B.C. students are learning foundational skills in reading, writing, and numeracy is already available.

If something other than a snapshot is the goal of a provincial student assessment program, then we need to think carefully about how to meet those other goals appropriately.

Sandra Mathison is a professor in the Faculty of Education at UBC. She is an expert on educational evaluation and her recently published book, The Nature and Limits of Standards Based Reform and Assessment, examines many issues related to government-mandated testing programs.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Opinion+need+rely+much+maligned+tests+gauge+students+skills/7824430/story.html#ixzz2IA8f5vo7

Standardized Testing in Canada: Real Accountability or an Illusion of Success?

Action Canada public dialogue taking place Friday, November 30th, from 8:00am to 9:30am. Moderated by Tom Clark (Chief Political Correspondent and Host of Global TV ‘s The West Block), the theme we will be exploring is:

 Standardized Testing in Canada: Real Accountability or an Illusion of Success?

Focusing on British Columbia’s K-12 education systems, our guest speakers for this session include Peter Cowley (Senior Vice-President Operations and Director of School Performance Studies, The Fraser Institute), April Lowe (Grade 3 Teacher, Garibaldi Highlands Elementary School), and Joel Westheimer (University Research Chair, Sociology of Education, University of Ottawa).

This event will take place in the Asia Pacific Hall of Vancouver’s Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue (580 West Hastings Street). Following this session will be two more dialogues hosted by other Action Canada Task Forces: “Teaching Questions Not Answers” (at 9:30am) and “Who Cares about Young Caregivers (at 11:00am).

This event is free, but registration is required: Vancouver Public Dialogue

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

-Sébastien Després and the Action Canada Task Force on Standardized Testing