Friday, January 13, 2012

Improving the test of provincial exams!

The Alberta Government is about to do something that is going to improve learning in schools.
It is about time the Frasier institute can no longer compare schools, or allow the results of schools to be public.  Finally, Lukaszuk is about to show that there is more to learning than statistics, numbers, test scores, and rankings.  Peter Cowley, from the Frasier institute, says “Teaching teams can directly use the PAT results to the benefit of their students”, and then follows with “It is hard to see how improving teaching effectiveness can be considered a misuse of the PAT data”.  These two statements are begging the question that PATS improve learning, which they do not.

I ask you, have you ever written a test or an exam and became smarter because of it?  In Alberta, I have yet to see a farmer weigh his/her animals more to increase their weight.  Just as weighing an animal won’t increase its weight, testing students won’t increase learning.  Our education has always been test score driven but I wonder if this belief is actually justified?  Has this norm been created out of research and studies?  Is this actually authenticated by pedagogical practice?  Does testing create lifelong learners?  Lastly, does it improve education?  I believe the answer to all of these questions is NO!

I understand that many people outside education, such as Peter Cowley, believe that only a standardized provincial exam can reveal that truth about what is actually occurring in Albertan schools, and is fighting for the idea that three years of education can be reduced to a single number on a multiple choice exam.  However, this idea is completely absurd.  If you find yourself disagreeing, then I strongly urge you to learn more about a standardized exam.    

 Just for starters, before a standardized test is given there are psychometricians who know how many students will pass and how many students will fail, and this occurs before the students ever write the exam.  Why would we support the sharing of grades on an exam that has a pre-determined failure rate?  Next, Peter will have us believe that these tests are an effective way of measuring education in our province, but he fails to realize these tests have a pre-selected material which is unknown to the teacher.  In terms of reliability, most educators resent the idea of a confined focus of testing as it measures only a portion of the domain and ultimately distorts the depth, complexity and dedication of a student’s ability.

 Lastly, Peter will try to convince people that it is these tests scores that will improve education. He fails to understand that it is not the test scores which need to increase to enhance education, but instead the trust that a teacher is a professional, dedicated to providing the best education possible, and the idea that learning cannot be reduced to a mark on a single exam.   


  1. All this will do is hide failure under the carpet. You state...

    "In Alberta, I have yet to see a farmer weigh his/her animals more to increase their weight. Just as weighing an animal won’t increase its weight, testing students won’t increase learning."

    But that is a mis-analogy. Nobody weighs cows to make them weigh more, they weigh them simple to know how much they weigh. If they want them to weigh more than they feed them and after that they weigh them to see if they were successful in getting them to weigh more. Nobody tests to make students smarter, they test in order to gauge the success of the students period, irrespective of the teaching method. If you want students to be smarter then you teach them and get them to study and then you can test them to see how well they did.

    Test and test scores, by themselves, will neither improve education nor make it worse. In fact, even by your own words, tests have nothing to do with education, they are only a measure of how successful a student has been. Granted, there is some debate, some of it even right, as to what is the best way to test, what are "good" questions. The only sure way to really know what a student knows is to perform a comprehensive interrogation of the student in person. Baring that, several comprehensive exams will also give a reliable picture.

    This is not a problem with tests Dave. The simple reality is that all people are not the same. Some are good in some things and some in other things. The problem is with people that say a school is bad because all of its students do not equally succeed in every subject.

    I can tell you that out here, in the real world, after school, all of those tests are pretty good indicators of who's who in these various disciplines. And that doesn't just go for math, it goes for everything, including music and art. It isn't 100% accurate, but it jives pretty well. I would think that if you really cared about education you would find peace with that reality and get back to education. Instead of trying to hide the reality of tests, use that reality to prove to yourself and to others that we are all good at various and different things and the most important thing in the student's current brief life is to find what they are good at and then pursue it with enthusiasm.

  2. @Robert: My main concern is how private institutes take the test results of the schools and rank them according to the averages of the schools. Parents then use these rankings to determine where to send their children.

    Are you ok with this?

  3. I am not sure which part you are asking me if am I ok with, that private entities are ranking schools according to test scores or that parents choose the school their children attend according to test scores. Obviously, parents try to choose good schools for their children, at least to the extent they can. Here in the U.S. that means choosing where you buy your house. What can I say, better scores at the school correlate to a safer and better experience over all. Maybe in your area the schools are more even amongst each other. Here, they are not by any means even. I don't mean even in terms of money spent (that part is equal) or recruitment of teachers (also equal). I mean equal in terms of the homes and cultures the students are coming from. This is not an issue with kindergarteners and first graders, they are the most equal, god bless them. But come middle school and high school, these students bring all of their crap with them, to school, and the experience is more than just unpleasant for those students not so afflicted.

    We were poor and I went to 6 different schools when I was young, all in the same district. The variance was significant. The experience went from so bad that I don't even hold those years in my collective memory of school to moderately good. The good part was in my last year of junior high school and in high school, only because we moved (yet again) and by chance I fell on the right side of a district line. And the scores at all of these schools correlated very highly with that experience.

    Parents don't choose schools based on scores primarily for the scores. They choose them that way because the scores correlate with the class of the students. They would rather not send their children to school to be beat up or picked on or harassed or any other number of things. The scores themselves are second. Class is much more important to happiness than any score on any test. Unfortunately, the two are correlated.