Sunday, February 13, 2011

Info about Standardized exams, focused on PAT in Alberta

Here is some information on the standardized exams in Alberta for grades 3, 6 and 9. 
First off, the definition of a standardized exam:
A standardized test is a test that is administered and scored in a consistent, or "standard", manner. Standardized tests are designed in such a way that the questions, conditions for administering, scoring procedures, and interpretations are consistent and are administered and scored in a predetermined, standard manner.
I urge all parents to read and make an informed decision on whether or not their child participates in the exams in grades 3, 6, or 9.  As a parent you actually have the choice to whether or not your child participates in these exams.  For dates and times of these exams, you are to ask your child’s teacher or principal.  If you choose to not have your child participate you can withdraw your child, by sending a letter to your child’s principal.  No consequence, through marks or other tactics, can be taken against your child.  Taken off the Alberta Education’s website:
If a parent withdraws a student from participation, the school is obligated to mark the student “absent” not “excused” on the List of Students. A copy of the parent’s letter indicating that the
child will not be participating should be attached to the Principal’s Statement.

From the Alberta government’s website, the reasons of the exam are:
·         determine if students are learning what they are expected to learn.
·         report to Albertans how well students have achieved provincial standards at given points in their schooling.
·         assist schools, authorities, and the province in monitoring and improving student learning.

Also, further in the document states,
Careful examination and interpretation of the Achievement Testing Program results can help reveal areas of relative strength and weakness in student achievement. Teachers and administrators can use this information in planning and delivering relevant and effective instruction in relation to learning outcomes in the Programs of Study.”

Now, in the document, it also states:
Achievement tests can assess only part of what is to be learned. In addition, many factors contribute to student achievement. Personnel at the authority and school levels are in the best position to appropriately interpret, use, and communicate school authority and school results in the local context.”

Reading these two statements states that the PATs can help find areas of strength and weakness in a child’s achievement, but the people who are best to know what a child actually has learned are the teachers of that child.  Click here for more on Achievement VS Learning

I have done some research around these exams and also wanted to include what I read elsewhere.

First we should be aware of the costs.  In 2003, the PAT and diplomas cost the government $12 million, while they only spent $4 million on curriculum.

An informal "count me out" movement against excessive testing is gathering momentum around the globe. Hundreds of teachers in Britain have recently voted to boycott the tests. Hundreds of parents in Alberta have requested that their children be exempted from the tests. A U.S. group is even suggesting that all politicians take all the tests.  

Currently, the Alberta Teachers Association is trying to abolish the grade 3 PAT entirely, due to the fact of the age of the students.  Virtually all specialists condemn the practice of giving standardized tests to children younger than 8 or 9 years old. I say "virtually" to cover myself here, but, in fact, I have yet to find a single reputable scholar in the field of early-childhood education who endorses such testing for young children.

Also, I have read research stating that standardized exams test more on socioeconomic status then actual learning.  For decades, critics have complained that many standardized tests are unfair because the questions require a set of knowledge and skills more likely to be possessed by children from a privileged background. The discriminatory effect is particularly pronounced with norm-referenced tests, where the imperative to spread out the scores often produces questions that tap knowledge gained outside of school. This, as W. James Popham argues, provides a powerful advantage to students whose parents are affluent and well-educated. It's more than a little ironic to rely on biased tests to "close the gap" between rich and poor.

Data from the USA standardized exam, the SAT:
Family Income
Average SAT Score
$30 - $40K
$50 - $60K
$70K +

The test makers call their multiple-choice tests 'objective' and would have us regard objectivity as a virtue. But the term 'objective', when applied to the tests, is really a misnomer. The objectivity resides not in the tests as a whole but merely in the fact that no subjective element enters the grading process once the key has been decided upon. Yet the choice of questions to ask, topics to cover, and the choice of format, that is, multiple-choice as opposed to essay-answer, are all subjective decisions. All 'objective' means, in the narrow technical sense, is that the same mark will be received no matter who grades the test. The chosen answer is simply judged as 'correct' or 'incorrect' in accordance with the key, no argument or rationale is permitted, and the grading can be done by computer. In this sense, all multiple-choice tests are "objective."

But it is important to realise that saying a test is "objective" does not mean that the questions are relevant or unambiguous; nor does it mean that the required answers are correct or even "the best." Even more important, calling the tests "objective" does not mean that the tests are not biased. As discussed above, standardized tests may discriminate against many of the best candidates. It is more generally accepted that these tests are biased against women, minorities, and the poor.

Bias can take many different forms. With women, test scores underpredict grades. Although women tend to score lower on standardized tests, they tend to earn higher grades in college.  At least one study has found the scores also under predict grades for Hispanic students.  Bias against black students takes a different form. Although there is no clear evidence that test scores consistently under predict the grades of black students, it seems that test scores are far less reliable predictors for black students. Or in other words, even more errors in prediction will be made for black than for black students. This form of bias is known as differential validity.

Finally, tests cause stress and depression. Teachers our on edge all year with regards to how to prepare children for the tests. Children become nervous and depressed worrying about how well they are going to do on the test day. I'll bet that doesn't help them to do better. To think that a child being tired, hungry, or nervous during a test can totally effect their results in and of itself says a lot about the fallacy of any test, least of all a government test.

Children, human beings that is, are turned into numbers. A high number or a low number. Instead of making changes in thinking of the thoughts, feelings, emotions, curiosity, of real people, our children, the powers that be see only numbers. Numbers that represent living breathing children.
If you require more info, you can refer to the websites below.
"Large scale educational assessment: the new face of testing" in Passing the Test: The False Promises of Standardized Testing.
Hampton, Wayne. "Challenging the testing regime in Alberta."


  1. I so wish I had known about this last year, because I would have taken my child out of the PATs in grade six, but I will be opting him out in grade 9. I don't like them, I don't like giving them, and I just wish more parents were informed of their rights, because that would definitely send a message to the government. As a parent I am sure I can say something, but as a teacher can I also give this suggestion to my parents?

  2. Excellent post! If anyone wants a sample letter to follow they can use mine as a template on my blog at:

    I'll be writing one again this year as I have one in grade 3 this year, too. Unless, they are gone by then... Wishful thinking!

    Jenn-as per whether you can give the suggestion to parents or not, I would be careful as you would with any other educational issue. I posted on my blog about it and have talked about it with my students but I don't encourage them to do it - just say that it is a personal choice. My administrators know that I am politically active, but know that opinions are my own and I am not trying to "sway" them, just inform them.

    Momentum is buiding!Keep spreading the word!