Standardized testing fails to make the grade

Media Appearances, Education, Frontier Centre

It appears that the highly contentious issue of mandatory standardized testing for students in British Columbia will be an even bigger controversy during the 2008-09 school year.

The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation stated earlier this week that class size and composition is the most important factor that teachers want to see addressed with regards to education. Trailing a close second on the union’s list of priorities is standardized testing, although exactly how the BCTF plans to challenge the province wide initiative remains under wraps.

“It’s still in the works and I can’t really comment on it right now, but it’s going to be a large issue this year,” said Gabriel Bureau, Prince Rupert District Teachers’ Union president. Teachers’ union leaders from across B.C. met in Kamloops this month for a four day conference to build new skills and discuss critical issues facing public education, one of which was the way teachers would be confronting standardized testing this year in a unified manner.

Education Minister Shirley Bond stated earlier this week that the government would continue to support the Fraser Institute’s Foundation Skills Assessment for students in Grades 4, 7 and 10, stating that the majority of parents province-wide have supported the testing.

However, Bond did state the standardized testing is not meant to be used to rank one student or school against another, and that the Ministry would be looking at ways to better use the data collected from the tests in the future.

“We have struggled with ways to convince the government that they should administer that test on a random sample basis,” said BCTF President Irene Lanzinger.

“A test like that is really only useful for one purpose, which is to say that generally speaking in this province we are teaching Grade 4 at a certain level.

“It’s not a good assessment of an individual child, it’s not a good assessment of an individual school.”

Lanzinger said that giving every single child in the province the same test is not necessary, as using a random sample will give a general overview and stop the ranking of schools. To this day the BCTF is “mystified” as to why Minister Bond refuses to eliminate the rankings of schools, as they claim the results are so closely tied to socio-economic status.

“Private schools that get to choose their students and charge $15,000 in tuition, who have many of the resources that public schools are crying out for, brag about the results where they come out on top,” said Lanzinger.

“Who is surprised that these schools, where they screen out students with special needs and get to pick who they choose to educate, do slightly better on this test?

“We’ve said repeatedly and been clear that we are prepared to talk to the Minister around ways that her desire to provide information to parents can be met, while stopping the damaging uses of the test.”

The BCTF has still not stated just how far teachers are prepared to go in their opposition to the standardized testing this school year.

In related news, the Frontier Centre For Public Policy released a report by Rodney Clifton, professor of Sociology of Education with the University of Manitoba, which states that teachers’ unions are first and foremost acting in the interest of their members, and not students.

The report, entitled The Impact of Teachers’ Unions on Education Policy, warns government to keep in mind that teachers’ unions place the interests of their members first before adopting their proposals.

The executive summary of the report states that “class-size limits are a major goal of teachers’ unions despite the lack of evidence that they improve student learning”, that “teachers’ unions support substantial increases in education spending but have not indicated what level of funding is sufficient,” and that “teachers’ unions oppose accountability measures such as standardized testing,” while advocating for collective agreements that restrict the flexibility of school boards to meet the needs of students.