I occasionally write for a variety of education blogs south of the border, including Bakpax, Edutopia and We Are Teachers; through these experiences, I’ve had the opportunity to develop relationships with a few blog editors. As a result, I sometimes get emails about blog topics they are looking for writers to take on. I recently received an email pitch opportunity on the topic of standardized testing, and responded with a bit of a spin – I wanted to write about why, as a teacher and parent, I find it valuable.
The editor liked my pitch – actually, he pitched it to his team, but they shut it down due to the concern that their blog audience (teachers) would respond too negatively/emotionally to such a post.
When he emailed me with the bad news he added a note at the end – despite finding relevance in my point of view, he couldn’t publish it in the current climate of anti-standardized testing fever that presently exists south of the border.
In retrospect, I’m glad he decided against it as the comment follow-up would have taken me ages with this type of post. The more I thought about it, though, the more I wanted to write the piece – so here I am: read on to find out why as a teacher and parent I value standardized testing.
One of the largest challenges about teaching is the massive inconsistency of the practice. Teaching is by nature a subjective practice and is exceptionally dynamic due to a variety of fluctuating factors, including: personal mental and physical health, changing curriculum, students, administrators, ministry initiatives, physical environments and parental support, etc.
Moreover, despite the existence of in-school, board and provincial exemplars and collaborative grading standards, all teachers grade subjectively. The variation in the assignments and grading of ‘student A’ and ‘student B’ could be drastically different in the same school, district or province depending on their teacher’s experience, expectations and school culture.
Standardized testing, although not perfect, is at the very least significantly more objective. All students, in the same grade, receive the same test, with the same questions and are expected to write it in prescribed environments. Their tests are then objectively graded by teachers who are trained in evaluating standardized exemplars. Through this objective process, students (and parents) receive a much clearer picture of a students’ general achievement in a subject that is independent (i.e. not clouded by teacher or parent support or prompting).
As a teacher, but more-so as a parent, I want this objectivity. I know how subjective teaching can be, so although I value my children’s report card grades and comments, I want to know how they score out in essential subjects (math and literacy) objectively. This gives me the peace of mind that regardless of what teacher they have as they move through the education system, I’ll know whether they are on (or off) track when compared to other students of the same age in the province. Having a straight ‘A’ report card is great, but if my child is scoring out at levels 1 or 2 (below grade level) on standardized tests, then the subjective report of their teacher (to me) becomes largely irrelevant.
As teachers, we are government employees paid by taxpayers. Therefore, our professional accountability is paramount. I personally take a great deal of pride in my work with students, and have no issue with this, but when the topic of teacher accountability comes up, many teachers become immediately defensive. Like it or not, standardized testing is a form of education (and teacher) accountability in core subjects (math and literacy) here in Ontario.
In my personal opinion (so attack me only here if you disagree), I feel we need more teacher accountability in our professional practice. This may shock those not involved in the education system, but there is pitifully little professional accountability that currently exists in our system (I could write an entire blog on this topic).
Standardized testing, really is one of the only forms of teacher accountability – not only for the teacher of the students writing, but for all teachers in that particular school, and consequently entire school districts. When referencing teacher accountability – please understand I mean this in reference to improving student achievement, not necessarily attaining grade level for all students. Schools in low socioeconomic areas or with high levels of immigrant populations will naturally be much lower than those in higher socioeconomic areas, especially when evaluating math and literacy skills. Nevertheless, when a school’s standardized testing scores are stagnant or declining based on previous student achievement then it is a sign of teacher/school accountability – and teachers should rise to the challenge of re-evaluating and improving their practice based on this feedback.
As a teacher in a school with fluctuating standardized testing scores, I’m constantly evaluating my students standardized testing results from previous and current years to inform my practice. If they don’t perform well – yes – I take that personally and work to adjust my practice accordingly. Sure, the students in front of me change yearly, and some years will require significantly more literacy work than others, but ultimately it is my responsibility as a teacher to assume this accountability for my student’s performance.
Teachers, like all other professionals, need accountability to challenge and evolve their practice. Again, although standardized testing isn’t an ideal method of evaluation, it is one of the only forms of teacher accountability that currently exists in our education system here in Ontario.
Clarity of Standards and Exemplars
I’m an A-type person. I like clear standards and expectations to be laid out for me. The grey zone of interpretation in education is a constant pet-peeve of mine (watch for a future blog on the vague English curriculum in Ontario coming soon). Standardized testing provides clear standards and exemplars for teachers to follow and students to emulate.
If you’ve ever visited the EQAO website (standardized testing in Ontario), you’ll find a wealth of resources for students, teachers and parents. These resources clearly define the standards of literacy and math expected of Ontario students at various grade levels. I often use resources from the EQAO website in my daily practice with students, as well as make good use of their exemplars of student work for my students to be able to compare their own work to as a form of growth and applied learning.
Moreover, as a parent, I like being able to take a look at the skills my children should be demonstrating at different grade levels. Since I often work at home on literacy and math skills with my children, it’s comforting to know what I should be focusing on, what level of difficulty I should be challenging my kids with and what type of achievement they are expected to demonstrate.
The clarity of standards and exemplars that accompany standardized testing provide logical guidelines for all education stakeholders, which in my opinion is also incredibly valuable.
This last point of argument is one of contention. One of the caveats of standardized testing is that the results are transparent, and published. My point of view on this topic is simple – since standardized testing is paid by a government agency, which uses taxpayers dollars, then logically these results should be available to the people who pay for them (i.e. the general public).
My second point on this issue is that if teachers, school or districts value transparency then they shouldn’t care if standardized testing results are published. Most districts ‘downplay’ the importance of these results, which I also personally don’t agree with. This is mostly due to the fact that often schools in higher socio-economic areas are glorified, while those in low socio-economic or diverse areas are not. However, I do believe there is much more at play here than simple economics. There are many schools in disadvantaged or challenging areas of the province that have done exceptionally well on standardized testing compared to previous results or other schools in similar socio-economic areas. Why can’t the teachers in these schools be acknowledged for their dedication to their practice to support their students in this achievement?
If teachers and schools have nothing to hide, then transparency regarding standardized testing scores shouldn’t be an issue – period.
Finding value in standardized testing isn’t a popular opinion in the teaching community these days, but it’s one that I personally value. Is the EQAO testing system perfect? No. But what is in education? Can you find a perfect teacher? Administrator? Student? I genuinely believe that working on improving our standardized testing system here in Ontario is important, and that throwing it to the wind would be detrimental to student achievement and success.
What are your thought on standardized testing here in Ontario? Comment below!