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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 4, January/February 2008

Standardized testing is harming learning

Teachers believe in fair, effective, and reliable evaluation of students

Fair evaluation

embeds these principles:

• Students learn in different ways and at different rates.

• All students can learn and deserve the support they require to succeed.

• Students and parents/guardians are active participants in assessment and evaluation.

• Evaluation procedures and results are fair and are expressed in clear language to the students and parents/guardians.

Effective evaluation

• informs and supports student learning through a continuous cycle of teaching and learning, assessment, and planning for instruction.

• requires many tools and strategies in addition to tests, e.g., performance standards, projects, presentations, rating scales, observations, portfolios, essays, writing samples, checklists, goal setting, and evaluating.

• is often called "assessment for learning" as opposed to "assessment of learning" that checks on what students already know.

"We know from research that effective assessment for learning can improve student achievement substantially. Improved classroom assessment helps low achievers the most."

(Black and William, Assessment Reform Group, 1998)

• teaches students to be responsible for their learning, rather than focussed on what is on the test.

Reliable evaluation

• We know that no single test or assessment strategy is completely reliable. That is why teachers favour a wide variety of strategies that examine the broad and complex nature of learning, including higher-order thinking skills required in the world today.

• We also know that tests have specific purposes and we are trained to use them appropriately, e.g., large-scale, standardized tests are useful to monitor curriculum and programs but need only be administered to a small sample of students to be reliable for this


• We know how to assess, when to assess, and what kinds of assessment to use to support student learning.

The issue facing us is not "whether" we should assess learning, but "how" we should do it.

What is wrong with standardized tests?

Most large-scale, standardized tests should be administered to samples of students and can be helpful to assess programs and curriculum. Unfortunately, this is often not the way these tests are currently being used. Standardized tests are overused, misused, and not useful.


• There are too many tests. Provincial tests include Grades 4, 7, 10, 11, and 12. As well, many school districts have implemented district-wide tests to provide data for the achievement contracts required by the ministry and administrators often pressure teachers to do school-wide and district-wide tests to provide data for school growth plans.

• They take too much time. The need to improve scores creates pressure to practice for all of these tests during valuable learning time.

• They cost too much money. Large-scale tests are used when samples would suffice; money is wasted that is desperately needed for textbooks, library books, and learning resources.

• Overuse harms vulnerable students. "Low achievers become overwhelmed by assessments and de-motivated by constant evidence of their low achievement. The effect is to increase the gap between low- and high-achieving pupils." (UK Assess-ment Reform Group, 2002

• They actually harm public education. In the US, researchers are demonstrating that the overuse of standardized tests has decreased graduation rates and has not improved student achievement. Overuse and the inflated value placed on these tests forces teachers to "teach to the test" which, in turn, narrows and "dumbs down" the education system.


• The Fraser Institute misuses the results of FSA tests by ranking schools. These rankings reflect the economic status of students and communities but do not appropriately evaluate the complexity of learning or education. Results are not reliable measures of student progress. Public humiliation of students, schools, and communities is reminiscent of 19th Century education practices and is unacceptable today. Low rankings have led to a drop in enrolment, which brings even less money to schools in need.

• False claims of improvement or declines result when reliability and confidence intervals are not available. Like public opinion polls, large-scale, standardized tests have a "range of reliability." This can lead to wide fluctuations that appear to indicate improvements or declines, but are just not reliable.

Most not useful

• They focus on lower-level skills that are easily tested, e.g., assessing factual recall, paraphrasing, and content understanding are the focus rather than critical thinking, creative problem solving, or co-operation and communication skills.

• They do not help students learn. Single, large-scale tests are not reliable enough at the individual student level to be useful for improving student learning.

• They do not help teachers teach. They do not provide information that teachers can use to adjust instruction or diagnose students’ needs.

• They do not provide meaningful information to parents about their child’s progress on the prescribed curriculum.

Standardized test results do not generate more money, increased support for students, or lower class sizes for students and schools that require support.

Reprinted from "A Note from your teachers," a report from the BCTF to the Members of the Legislative Assembly, Linda Shuto, October 13, 2007.

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