In March 20, 2013’s budget the provincial government announced that “…$5.9 million is being provided to initiate a new student assessment program that will support learning through the Saskatchewan Student Achievement initiative." The 5.9 million will largely be used to develop standardized tests for Saskatchewan students; and 5.9 million is just the beginning of this costly exercise!
What a shameful waste of resources that plainly ignores the mountains of evidence against standardized testing.
Standardization is for factories, not our kids.
As concerned educators, education scholars, and parents we respectfully ask that the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education reconsider its decision-- currently on "pause" for consultations-- to have Saskatchewan students between grades 4 and 12 take part in yearly provincial standardized assessments by the end of 2016.
Given that mandatory student standardized testing will not yield any information that cannot be obtained through regularly scheduled randomly assigned student testing groups, and given the ample evidenced-based findings counter to mandatory standardized testing, we feel the decision to subject grade 4 to 12 students to mandatory testing will not be of pedagogical, psychological, social or financial benefit to students, parents, teachers, nor Saskatchewan in general.
Furthermore, the dedicated teachers of Saskatchewan already conduct continuous assessment and evaluation of students over the length of the whole school year. Working closely with students and their family, teachers ensure that the learning needs of all students are being met and supported through a variety of formative and summative classroom assessment practices.
Evidence against standardized tests:
• The effectiveness of standardized testing as a means of improving education has been widely questioned and critiqued in the relevant research literature. Standardized assessments have not been demonstrated to improve teaching or learning in any significant manner (Hout & Elliott, 2011).
• Standardized assessments provide onetime snapshots that do not accurately measure how a student performs day after day and they are, by their very nature, summative, rather than formative; teachers who perform regular assessments on a daily basis are best positioned to evaluate how a student is performing vis-à-vis curricular outcomes (Davies, Herbst, & Reynolds, 2008; Harris, Smith, & Harris, 2011; WNCP, 2006)
• Standardized testing diverts teaching time and monetary resources away from student supports, teachable moments, and direct teacher-student contact time (Kohn, 2000, 2011; Sahlberg, 2011).
• Canadian provinces, including Alberta and British Columbia (Steffenhagen, 2012), as well as several US States (Bryant, 2013), including over 600 schools in Texas alone (VASS News, 2012), are scaling back from mandatory standardized testing, opting instead for the less pedagogically harmful and less costly, random sampling.
• Standardized tests are often culturally biased, biased against those for whom English is an additional language, and have been demonstrated to be more reflective of depressed socio-economic neighbourhood conditions (Abedi, 2010; Sawa, 2010; VASS News, 2012), than the quality of teaching or learning of teachers and students.
• The results of standardized tests, when published in newspapers carry negative side effects, including a significant drop in student and teacher morale (Paris & Urdan, 2000).
• The Finnish “fear free” school system that eschews competition, failure, and standardized testing regularly tops the 34 countries tested by OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment [PISA] and several provinces who have mandatory standardized testing perform less well than Saskatchewan on the same PISA tests (OECD, 2010).
• Many children experience increased anxiety as the standardized testing date gets closer and especially upon testing days (Gail Jones, Jones, & Hargrove, 2003; Segool, 2009).
• Standardized testing runs counter to the Ministry's stated goal to improve retention and graduation of Aboriginal students, since standardized tests often serve to further marginalize and push out students who are already made vulnerable by systemic injustices (Crandall & Kutz, 2011).
It is with the utmost respect and with the best interest of students, teachers, parents, and Saskatchewan in general, that we write today asking the Ministry to reconsider the proposed mandatory testing initiative for Saskatchewan students from grades 4 to 12 beginning in 2016.
It should be highlighted that with a return to a random sampling approach the Ministry will still be provided with the information needed to identify and help those groups doing poorly, while allowing the province to reinvest the savings towards our schools and teacher and student supports for improved teaching and learning.
As education scholars, practitioners, teacher educators, and parents we ask that the Ministry return to the practice of randomly sampling groups from grades 4 to 12 and return to an assessment for learning approach to education.
We look forward to future discussions and to working closely with the Ministry in the hopes of providing the best education possible for our Saskatchewan students.
Concerned educators, education scholars, and parents