The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS) has just released its report about our public education system. On the local news, the Director of AIMS urged the New Brunswick Government to bring back standardized testing. The Minister, Kelly Lamrock, is supposed to reply this afternoon. We’ll see what stuff our politicians are made of.
So what does it matter that our local high school received a C+? About as much as the fact that I got a D in Grade 9 French class. I now speak French fluently. I also got an A in Grade 12 Algebra and my math is abysmal, even after two years of university level math. Face it; in the long run, there is no correlation between success in life and the grades you got.
Creating a lovely matrix filled with absolute numbers may look pretty and may get you some press time but it fails to inform us about the state of our education system. The time to measure is several years after graduation, when all of the short-term test results are irrelevant and what you really learned is what you have left.
Our neighbour to the South has been pushing standardized testing through its “No Child Left Behind” legislation, and look at the results, according to Monty Neil:
Key problems with the law include over-emphasizing standardized testing, narrowing curriculum and instruction to focus on test preparation; over-identifying schools in need of improvement; using sanctions that do not help improve schools; inappropriately excluding or retaining in grade low-scoring children to boost test results; and inadequate funding. The law not only punishes schools, it damages educational quality, particularly for those the law purports to help â€“ low income children, children of color, those with learning disabilities, and those who are just learning English.
Is this the direction that AIMS wants to take our system?
Standardized tests tell us little about learning, and report cards for schools only create “talk points” for partisan debate about education. Standardized tests, for students or for schools, are all about control. Yeats said that education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. Fire is much harder to control.
Second, Iâ€™d been looking for an alternative to grades because research shows three reliable effects when students are graded: They tend to think less deeply, avoid taking risks, and lose interest in the learning itself. The ultimate goal of authentic assessment must be the elimination of grades.
In another article, Kohn refers to a Journal of Educational Psychology study that examined just how actively students were engaged in learning while taking standarized tests:
To be sure, there are plenty of students who think deeply and score well on testsâ€”and plenty of students who do neither. But, as a rule, it appears that standardized-test results are positively correlated with a shallow approach to learning.
Therefore, I will not grade the AIMS report, but rather examine it from a performance-based pass/fail perspective:
- Does the report help policy makers to improve learning in the educational system? Fail
- Does the report inform the general public about the core issues in public education? Fail
- Does the report raise the public profile of AIMS? Pass