Standardized testing is detrimental to students’ education

By Robert Green | Published April 22, 2014 by the Montreal Gazette

Though education is an issue of great importance to Quebecers, the only education-related issue discussed in the recent election campaign was the question of where in the education bureaucracy to find savings that could be redirected to schools.

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault said he favoured abolishing school boards, while Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard said he wanted to trim the staff within the education department itself.

Trimming bureaucratic fat sounds appealing, but it can also have grave consequences for the quality of services. This is particularly true in the case of school boards that provide front-line services to students.

Now that Couillard is set to officially take over as premier this week, I have a modest proposal for him: He could save some money by cutting the bureaucracy involved in the production and administration of high-stakes standardized tests.

os-ed-standardized-testing-front-burner-intro--001There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that such testing does anything to improve educational outcomes. For more than a decade, the U.S. has been involved in an education reform driven by standardized-test results. Over this time, student achievement has not improved, while a host of other negative effects have been observed: the narrowing of curriculum, the widening of achievement gaps related to race and class, and growing rates of student stress and depression.

The problems with standardized testing have become so serious that there is now a growing movement of parents and educators in the U.S. advocating that parents opt their children out of such tests.

Meanwhile, the country whose students consistently rank highest in the world, Finland, imposes no standardized tests whatsoever. Finland’s approach is to focus on equity over excellence, ensuring that all students, regardless of their backgrounds, are given the support they need to succeed.

Finland worries about the resources going into schools, while the U.S. worries about the test results coming out of them. Quebec needs to learn from this.

The reason high-stakes standardized testing doesn’t improve educational outcomes is simple: it forces teachers to prioritize test-prep and lower-order thinking skills such as rote memorization. This inevitably comes at the expense of activities that foster critical thinking, empathy, curiosity and a sense of wonder.

Another reason to scrap standardized testing is that it does not accurately measure student achievement. There is a significant amount of research demonstrating that about the only thing standardized tests accurately measure is the socio-economic status of students. One study in the U.S. found that factors related to socio-economic status accounted for 89 per cent of the variation in math-test scores.

Virtually all experts in educational psychology condemn the practice of basing important decisions, such as graduation or end-of-year promotion, on a single test. Yet this is exactly what Quebec has been doing for years with its ministry exams.

This is not to say that there should be no independent monitoring of student achievement. That can easily be done by administering tests to smaller random samples of students. This allows for the monitoring and diagnosis of problems without the expense and many negative consequences of administering tests to every student in the province.

In suggesting that some spending currently devoted to bureaucratic functions can be redirected to schools, Couillard has opened up some creative opportunities in education. In my view, eliminating high-stakes standardized testing would help move Quebec toward the creative Finnish model that has consistently produced the highest-achieving students in the world.

2 Trackbacks to “Standardized testing is detrimental to students’ education”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: