October 19, 2011
Feedback - Don’t Scrap Standardized Testing
How true! This reflects my experience as a school psychologist with the Calgary Board of Education in the late 70s and 80s. It was the era of the "Whole Language Approach" to teaching reading and writing skills. It was embraced by the CBE and transmitted with religious passion by the Language Specialists as the only acceptable teaching method. No structured learning experience or phonics were to be used. An unacceptable number of children in the system ended up with very limited reading and writing skills-a deficit not noticed until the cohort was in junior high school. Unfortunately, this was also a period when standardized assessment of skills was 'optional' for each Calgary school.
I clearly recall meetings when our Area Psychologists and Speech Therapists expressed concerns to the Language Specialists. While we agreed that a Whole Language approach had merit with many early learners, especially those from homes with enriched language experiences, professionals in our groups were handling referrals for many children for whom the approach did not work. These included children with Language Learning Disabilities, children with attention difficulties, and children from homes with impoverished language. As well, different learning styles were ignored with the 'one teaching method' approach. Our concerns were ignored. Fortunately, some more confident teachers did attempt to introduce some phonics and structured learning experiences but these often had to be done surreptitiously.
The tragedy was that this particular learning fad, compounded by the system failure to monitor and assess learning outcomes at the elementary level had devastating and long lasting effects for too many children.
I was encouraged to read your excellent column in the Calgary Herald and only hope the message will be taken seriously by Premier Redford. Hopefully, she will revisit her leadership campaign promise to eliminate Alberta academic achievement testing in grades 3 and 6 after considering the experience of Manitoba.
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