The government of Saskatchewan has launched a “Renewed Approach” to assessing student achievement. The details on how this approach will be administered or what sort of test format it will take are hazy, and the government does a tremendous job at tiptoeing around their “Renewed Approach” so as to not come out and formally call it what it is – standardized testing. The way the “Renewed Approach” is presented makes it sound like a heaven-sent program. Clearly the SK government has hired a masterful research and marketing team at an attempt to disguise the truth behind this “Renewed Approach”.
Admittedly some of the aspects of the assessment do not sound terrible. The fact that the government is attempting to cut down on redundant assessments made by teachers sounds nice, because the more time I (as an educator) can have to focus on guiding my students in learning, the better. And the fact that assessment could potentially be transferable from one school to another for those students that move around a lot is also appealing, it would (hopefully) cut back on some of the inconsistencies in instruction and assessment for transient students. Even the idea of sharing the assessment score with parents and students is great…. granted I would hope this is happening currently- in my opinion this practice should be happening on a consistent basis with or without a mandate from the government.
But, even though some aspects of this “Renewed Approach” sound nice, of course it is never that simple. In my understanding of standardized assessments, the proposed purpose for them is often far from how they are eventually utilized. The whole idea of ranking students and schools against each other often ends up being a large part of how those scores are used. And it appears as though the SK government definitely plans to utilize these assessments in that way. In the News Release from May 16 Education Minister Donna Harpauer said, “We see our scores in international and national testing falling below the Canadian average.” To take on the mentality that we must ‘raise our test scores’ to be on par or better than the national average is a slippery slope to step up to. This sort of mentality leads to stress on every tier of the education system. The Ministry of Education will put stress on the divisions to see better test scores, the stress will trickle down to the Directors of Education which will end up being stress on the teacher’s shoulders to ‘pump out’ super genius children. (And how per-say does the SK government expect our teachers to do better than they are doing now, when in fact the government has currently cut exorbitant funds from the education system, which will lead to higher student to teacher ratios, fewer Educational Assistants and an all around less-ideal teaching/learning situation for teachers and students). Due to this stress some teachers will undoubtedly resort to ‘teaching to the test‘, meaning school will become ultra-academic focused with less room for free exploration and learning through inquiry. The “whole child” approach will be forgotten, a well rounded curriculum will be left behind for a more stringent agenda focused on the areas where students are “falling below the Canadian average”. And most sad of all, the stress will ultimately fall on the students.. who instead of being instilled with a joy for learning and inquiring will become jaded by a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to school. Keep in mind that these ‘standardized assessments’ are extremely biased to children of the dominant culture. Immigrant children, whether first, second or third generation are at a huge disadvantage for many standardized assessments. I have heard that in some situations, schools that are falling behind in their averages will find a way to omit the weaker student test scores from their school’s over all average… sometimes the child is simply asked to stay home that day.
I have many fears with the SK government’s “New Approach”. As a new teacher, I do not look forward to taking the fun out of learning so as to appease the governments desire to see better ‘scores’ coming from the students. With all that I know of the issues surrounding standardized assessment, I cannot help but wonder: Is the government really concerned about the well-being of the students…or is this all a numbers game?