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As a long-time educator and administrator in public and private schools, I agree wholeheartedly with Don Glendenning (“Improve the flow of Education," Feb. 27) that accurate information is essential to society, and especially to those interested in education. Concerning the flawed process of standardized testing, province- or nation-wide tests raise obvious questions: Who makes the test? What grade levels write the tests? What do the results tell us? How are the results used? The following contains some answers to these questions and relevant information based on first-hand experience and observation.
In much of Canada, standardized tests result in published rankings, comparing private school results to public school results and ignoring (or at best paying lip service to) the obvious disparities between private and public education, not the least of which is that private schools choose their students. As a result of rankings, which are published yearly in many provinces, administrators are pressured to create scenarios where schools must do well in the rankings, often at the expense of a child's overall education.
Schools choose only students who will do well on specific exams, disallowing those with, for example, poor Grade 9 math skills from entering an advanced Grade 10 math course. This disqualifies many students from entering other programs that require math as a prerequisite. The student who may have discovered a gift for physics in Grade 11 may never know his or her potential in this area. Valuable class time is spent teaching to the skills required for the test, resulting in students being well prepared to write that kind of test at the expense of other skills defined by a complete education.
Tests that evaluate writing skills create classroom writing labs that produce only the type of essay the exam requires, which any good writing teacher will tell you is not the way to teach writing. Standardized multiple choice tests on any subject teach students how to read and succeed on multiple choice exams, a specialized skill unrelated to lifelong learning. Across-the-board tests at any level use valuable instruction time, create unneeded stress, a false sense of accomplishment, and potentially demoralizing results. In short, Michael Zwaagstra's argument in The Guardian (“Standardized testing still makes sense in P.E.I.,” Feb. 26), that “standardized testing is beneficial for students because it ensures that teachers cover the key elements of curriculum,” is weak at best.
The key elements of any curriculum change yearly at every grade level, as skills needed to cope with the rapidly changing world, are discovered through technological advances and geopolitical developments. Statistics concerning the success rate of schools that do well are used merely to appease board members and recruit students, exacerbating the problem that has seen a decline in public school enrolment, which may be the real goal of those who extol the virtues of standardized tests.
Education should not be a competition, nor should the process be run like a business. The accountability encouraged through standardized testing is purely corporate driven and is rarely left up to educators, because good educators know how education works. Every student learns differently, and the best teachers learn not to teach only the way they learned, but in a manner that motivates the majority of their students. Standardized tests are really just a flawed way to evaluate teachers and create unhealthy learning climates where teachers are not trusted or supported as they attempt to do their job.
So-called assessment firms, the virtues of which are extolled by frustrated ex-teachers and administrators, MBAs, and people who haven't been in a classroom since 1985, cannot be trusted to evaluate modern day education. The standardized testing they support wastes valuable class time and money from the ever-shrinking education budget, money that should be increasing nationally to contribute short-term to children's education and long-term to society's well-being. Those in charge of Island education please take heed.
Ron Patterson is a retired Montreal educator living in P.E.I.