October 21, 2011
Standardized Testing is a Good Thing
• Standardized testing makes it possible to compare schools with each other, and it provides a way to identify successful schools as well as those in need of assistance.
• For a test to be standardized, experts must create it. In addition, all students write the test at a set time, and specially trained teachers who follow established protocols do the marking.
• All provinces, except Manitoba, require students to write standardized tests at a variety of grade levels.
• With the exception of Manitoba, all provinces make academic achievement data available to the public.
• Despite the many benefits of standardized testing, it has come under attack. Teachers’ unions provide the strongest opposition.
• A balanced assessment policy includes both teacher-created assessment and standardized testing. Teacher-created assessment ensures that teachers can consider individual student needs. Standardized testing balances this with an objective measurement tool to determine if the students are meeting provincial curriculum standards.
The evidence is clear that standardized testing is an important component of a balanced approach to student assessment. Without the information provided by standardized tests, it becomes virtually impossible to identify how well students are doing.
As with healthcare, public education consumes a large percentage of provincial budgets. The economic challenges facing most provincial governments mean they must make difficult funding choices between health and education in the years ahead.
As a result, it becomes even more important for school administrators to be able to demonstrate solid results to the public. Concrete gains in student achievement prove the effectiveness of the school system and make it more likely public education will receive the support it needs.
Standardized testing is the most accurate and objective means by which student academic achievement can be reported to the public. Such testing makes it possible to compare schools with each other, and it provides a way to identify the most successful schools as well as the less successful ones. A comprehensive, standardized testing regime, coupled with well-designed tests created by classroom teachers, provides for a balanced approach to student assessment.
Unfortunately, some provinces have moved away from standardized testing, and this makes it much more difficult to evaluate student achievement objectively. Without a way to track student achievement or compare results from previous years, provincial officials cannot determine the effectiveness of schools. This makes it difficult for politicians to justify the substantial funding that public education requires. Without this justification, resources can be diverted to other sectors such as health care, where standardized assessments can justify expenditures.
Thus, it is essential for student achievement to be measured accurately and for these results to be made available to the public. This cannot be done without standardized testing.
View entire article as PDF (16 Pages)
Michael C. Zwaagstra
is a research fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy who specializes in education policy. He has extensive teaching experience at a variety of grade levels and currently teaches high school social studies in Manitoba. He received his B.Ed., P.B.C.E., and M.Ed. degrees from the University of Manitoba where he won several academic awards such as the A. W. Hogg Undergraduate Scholarship, the Klieforth Prize in American History, and the Schoolmaster’s Wives Association Scholarship. As an educator, Michael is a strong proponent of raising academic standards, holding schools accountable for their results, and expanding the educational options available to parents. His columns promoting common sense education reform have been published in major daily newspapers including the National Post, Winnipeg Free Press, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, and Calgary Herald. He is also a frequent guest on radio stations across the country. His best-selling first book, What's Wrong with Our Schools and How We Can Fix Them, was released in mid-2010.