Standardized testing is a fact of life in B.C., for now at least. And while the practice of mandatory intelligence tests is controversial in its own right, the issue takes on even bigger proportions when the Fraser Institute releases its annual ranking of schools every June.
In the view of the B.C. Teacher’s Federation, the usefulness of the tests is overstated and the temptation for others to make generalizations based on the results is just too great to ever support the idea. The federation also believes that the tests push a standard, one-size-fits-all style of education that’s not exactly relevant for today’s world, stifling creativity, innovation and personalized learning.
The previous Minister of Education, Don McRae evidently agreed with the federation’s views on standardized tests because they don’t conform with the new B.C. Education Plan and broader attempts to modernize education in the province. As a result, some believed that 2013 would be the last year for standardized tests — although current education minister Peter Fassbender has yet to announce anything one way or another. Stay tuned.
Some of the objections to the tests are valid. Kids do learn differently and at different rates, and there are countless socio-economic factors that can weigh on results at one school versus another. Some schools have more special needs students, ESL students or international students that might struggle with the tests. Some schools and boards have shrinking resources and student bodies, while others are growing so fast that half the classes are taught in portables.
Teachers, who pride themselves in helping students individually as well as entire classes of students, are also under pressure with standardized testing to put more focus on the test than the curriculum.
But for all the negatives to standardized testing, maybe it’s working. According to a Dec. 3 press release from the education ministry, 15-year-old students in B.C. are among the best in the world when it comes to math, science and reading — three areas covered by provincial standardized tests.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conducts an international assessment of students every three years, with 65 countries and economies participating. B.C. placed sixth in reading and science and 12th in math (second only in Canada to Quebec’s incredibly high math scores).
The OECD’s Programme for International Student Development (PISA) tests will be expanded in 2015 to include collaborative problem solving — something that fits well with the Sea to Sky School District’s new “Pathways to Learning” program, in its first year of deployment in local schools. The Pathways program takes the emphasis away from memorizing facts and figures (something that’s becoming redundant in the age of the Internet), to focus more on collaboration, problem solving and inquiry-based learning — learning by doing, rather than taking notes.
Of course, that’s a simplistic overview of the Pathways program, but it will be interesting to see what happens in the future when PISA does its assessment.
While the debate over standardized testing continues, at the regional school board level it seems that the evolution beyond standardized testing is already in full swing. At last Wednesday’s (Dec. 11) school board meeting, the board formalized the curriculums for three new courses that are as far away from a standard education as you can get — Athletic Leadership, Musical Theatre Production and Human Performance. And there are more new courses that will be announced in 2014.
It’s good to see the school board is getting away from the idea of prepackaged education and is supporting students that are going in a different, but equally valid, direction in life. Education should be about limitless opportunities, while standardized testing only recognizes a few core competencies.
That’s not to say that those core subjects aren’t important, because they are — and they will always be in the standard curriculum, which is also standard even if provincial tests do become a thing of the past.
If the education system continues to evolve the way it has been, this could be an interesting few years for education in this province.