||Volume 20, Number
3, November/December 2007
A standardized test for the standardized testers
This test should be offered to all MLAs, especially the minister
of education, ministry bureaucrats, and school trustees
By Jim Bowman
Preface: This can be read to, or by, the person being tested.
There is a widely held view that students should be tested in
school, because as adults, life will continually test them. The
problem with that view is that it is based on a false assumption that
all tests in schools are of the pass or fail variety and doesnt
distinguish between those tests and diagnostic tests. Pass or fail
tests are involved with conclusions, getting certificates of
achievement and the like. They are concerned with the what of the
curriculum. On the other hand diagnostic tests are examinations of
the process of achievement, temporary assessments of student
strengths and weaknesses, the how of teaching.
Think of learning to drive. The final test is pass or fail and the
licensor will determine that outcome. However, in the process of
learning to drive, diagnosis is the responsibility of the instructor,
not the certifier. You failed to shoulder check at the
appropriate time. You will not pass the final test if you drive with
a cell phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. You have
to wait until youre certified to do that.
Standardized tests in schools are supposed to be diagnostic in
nature. So is the one that follows. It sticks to the format typical
of many, but not all, of the tests given in schools.
1. Canadas public education system is ranked with
Finland and Sweden as one of the top three countries in the world.
True or False
2. With the exception of a few states, the USA has a very poor
public education system. True or False
3. The USA is the largest producer and user of standardized
tests in the so-called First World. True or False
4. Research has shown that, in the USA, teacher-education
programs do not get their fair share of the "best and
brightest" students entering university. True or False
5. Research has shown that in Canada teacher-education programs
do get their fair share of the "best and brightest"
students entering university. True or False
6. The "best and the brightest" of experienced
teachers appreciate being told how to do what they do in their
classrooms by supervisory personnel. True or False
7. The Bush political rhetoric "No child left
behind," in reality means more and more testing and a heavy
involvement of the private sector in public education. True or
8. What happens in public education in the USA influences what
happens in Canada. (a) Always (b) Quite often (c) Rarely (d)
9. The most important trio in the education of children is: (a)
Ministry of Education, children, and school boards. (b) District
supervisors, children, and ministry bureaucrats. (c) teachers,
children, and parents.
10. In any given class, who knows the children best and can
best ascertain their needs? (a) Minister of Education (b) School
board (c) District supervisors (d) ministry bureaucrats (e)
11. Standardized tests have never been used in BC to compare
teachers, classes, schools, or school districts. True or False
12. Is it possible to avoid using standardized test results for
comparative purposes in evaluating teachers or schools? (a) yes (b)
no (c) very unlikely.
13. The results of any diagnostic test should never be taken
out of the context of the classroom. Agree or Disagree
14. Physicians check ones blood pressure because the
Ministry of Health says they must. True or False
15. Teachers use of standardized tests should be (a)
compulsory, (b) voluntary.
16. Teachers frequently use their own diagnostic tests to
assist their students? Yes or No
17. The greatest contributory causes of lack of success in
elementary school are socio-economic background, especially poverty
and the lack of parents reading to, and with, preschool and
primary-aged children. True or False
18. Standardized tests help to correct poverty and the lack of
parents reading to, and with, pre-school and primary-aged children.
True or False
19.Within the bounds of reason and common sense, society at large
through its systems of government should determine what is taught in
schools. Yes or No
20. Within the bounds of reason and common sense, teachers, not
ministers of education, not bureaucrats, not school boards, not
supervisory personnel should determine how the what is taught in
schools. Yes or No
21. Standardized tests are more likely to help students become
(a) critically aware individuals, (b) gullible conformists.
Answers: 1. True, 2. True, 3. True, 4.True, 5.True, 6.
False, 7. True, 8. (b), 9. (c), 10. (e) 11. False, 12. (c), 13.
Agree, 14. False, 15. (b) 16. yes, 17. True, 18. False, 19. Yes, 20.
Yes, 21. (b)
Having completed the test you are probably upset at the arbitrary
nature of its structure. For just about every question a really
worthwhile answer would need at least a qualifying paragraph, if not
an essay, if not a book.
Questions are two-edged swords. They reveal the biases of the
questioner as much as the answers reveal the knowledge of the
answerer. The answers imply that once the state has determined what
shall be taught, then the teacher should decide how it should be
taught. Little merit is given to those in supervisory or consulting
positions. There are many school trustees, superintendents, and other
personnel not in the classroom who give teachers the support services
they need. Even ministers of education can be useful (though in BC we
have had some lulus). Think of the good work that Eileen Daily did
promoting Kindergartens and abolishing the strap.
But when you have quit being mad at the composer of this test,
perhaps you could then turn your anger on the standardized tests
which are as arbitrary as the one above, asking students to tick
somebody elses answers while seldom giving students a chance to
write their own sentences or paragraphs.
Now you might say, so what, give them the silly test then forget
about it and get on with the real business of learning. But the tests
are only symptoms of a much larger problemone of functional
literacy, the use and comprehension of the language as a
Some years ago, one authority described functional literacy as the
ability to understand written instructions, creating universal
consumer literacy but with minimal reading skills, a characteristic
of a gullible and passive populace. Functional literacy does little
to help achieve the real purposes of education, which are to
stimulate innate curiosity, creativity and imagination, to develop
needed skills, and to help children acquire useful knowledge as
opposed to memorizing what Whitehead called "inert"
knowledge which, particularly these days, is available at the touch
of a mouse.
Real learning, particularly in language, is not a lock-step
system. It is a matter of slow and incremental growth as individual
as each child. When standardized tests are imposed on classrooms, it
must be because outside authorities think they know what children
need better than teachers do. This certainly mocks the rhetoric of
the establishment about the paramount importance of the classroom in
the system of education. What a paradox when the teacher is the most
important educator in the learning process, but the least important
in the hierarchy. Teachers need organizational support, not
directives from the system. Schools are not factories.
When students get to secondary school, they need much more than
functional literacy. They should be developing a critical awareness
of the world around them. In a liberal democracy we are at the mercy
of one anothers vote and surely the ultimate aim of education
should be to have everyone capable of thinking for themselves,
impervious to blatant propaganda and the lies of demagogues. And if
you dont think there is, in our neighbour to the south, a
direct connection between the paucity of their public education
system and the ability of the military-industrial-religious
fundamentalist complex to hoodwink the populace, you havent
been paying attention.
Ministries of education and school boards, if they really want to
level the academic playing field, should concentrate much more on
preschool and primary education. The focus should be on small
intimate primary community schools also housing day care and
seniors activities. They should have good libraries and reach
into the community to work with parents of preschool children. Rare
is the child, read to since birth, who has trouble learning
successfully in school. Over 20 years ago, significant research
conducted by the University of London in low economic and multiracial
city areas demonstrated the very significant impact of getting
parents involved in the reading process. The children, whose parents
were involved in their reading, showed greater progress than those
who had remedial school tuition.
For those districts with declining enrolments and faced with
school closures, school boards should liaise with councils and
municipalities to encourage zoning changes that provide for more
family housing in the affected areas. Developments in new
subdivisions should automatically include these small
community-oriented primary schools.
Above all, teachers should be regarded as professionals. If they
are treated as technicians who need to be told how to do what they
have to do, the "best and brightest" will go elsewhere, and
a system no different from that in many US states will prevail.
Jim Bowman, a retired educator, qualified to teach in 1948,
taught every grade from 1 to 12, courses for soldiers, displaced
persons, and university students. He served in almost every
administrative position and retired as the Director of the Government
Division of the BCTF in 1987. He long ago declared war on the
"workbook-fill-in-the-blanks" process of education which of
course includes standardized tests.