Saturday, September 19, 2009

No Editorial Left Behind

The Ottawa Citizen seems to think that the mediocre results of standardized tests in Ottawa schools is both an argument for the status quo and an example of school choice - as if an inflexible oppressive system (where you are not allowed to go to the school of your choice, sometimes, even, when you live a few blocks away) is a bastion of dynamic educational experiences that students and parents can easily access.

It's bad enough that The Citizen comes out stumping for standardized tests - there is no evidence that provincially established testing does much good; standardized tests lead teachers to "teach to the test", and it also encourages them to cheat - but it is quite sad that they don't understand any of the objections to their beloved tests:
Strangely, some critics respond by questioning the value of standardized tests. Teachers' unions don't much like the tests, denouncing these instruments as political tools that waste classroom time and don't reflect student achievement. It could also be, one suspects, that unions don't like outsiders poking their noses into classrooms in an effort to find out if teachers are doing their jobs.

Most reasonable people and certainly most parents in Ontario support testing. Indeed, the tests, administered by the province's Education Quality and Accountability Office, are crucial to assessing how well Ontario's school system works and, when it doesn't, how to improve it. Without this information, policy- makers would be in the dark about much of what goes on in classrooms. Parents would have no way of knowing how the quality of education at their child's schools measures up relative to other schools.

Can anyone explain how The Citizen knows that "most reasonable people... support testing"?  Was there some sort of statistical analysis done or do they just think of those of us who disagree with their assertion to be, definitionally, unreasonable.

But really, that's not the worst of it.  Perhaps the worst of it is The Citizen's obsession with standardized testing data and their fetishizing it as some sort of market force that will drive school competition:
Parents and teachers devour this information. School boards realize that people are watching, and this creates a useful climate of competition.
Here's a little tip for the editors at The Citizen, if the only way to try to change schools is to move, there's no true choice and, thus, no real "competition".  If I had to sell my house in order to choose Coke over Pepsi, no one would praise the wonderful competition.

There is no evidence that standardized testing does anything but make students better at taking standardized tests.  If you want to make schools better (and I assume we all do), we need to offer students real competition.  We need to break down the artificial barriers that keep so many kids out of the schools of their choice.  We need to give kids real opportunities to learn and build better lives.

Or we could just obsess about tests.

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