Friday, June 4, 2010

Crisis or Opportunity

I've written about how Alberta has shifted away from standardized testing and how Alberta Education's abolishment of the Accountability and Reporting Division has left some serious uncertainties regarding grading and analyzing of this year's Provincial Achievement Tests, and Alberta Education's release of the Inspiring Education Steering Report throws even more fuel on the change fire.

David King, Executive Director of the Public School Boards' Association of Alberta, left a very profound comment:

Good post -- epitaph -- Joe. But we shouldn't stand over the grave too long. Someone, somewhere, is planning the next foray into provincial government exams.

We might all be better off if teachers and locals led on student assessment. 

David's point is well taken. A victory has been scored in the name of real learning, but just as every crisis brings great opportunity, so does every opportunity have the potential for crisis.

Many school districts in Alberta have come to define their successes and failures on Provincial Achievement Test results, but now that these tests are on the way out, many school districts are (or will be) experiencing a kind of existential vertigo - how else can they define themselves if not by fancy bargraphs and shiny pie charts depicting their test results.

Some school districts may pick up the testing torch and carry on where the province left off, creating their own local versions of standardized testing. The crisis here is that local school districts will typically have neither the money or manpower to create, field test, maintain and analyze proper standardized tests.

What could this look like?

Local school districts might ask for local teacher volunteers to attend local school district sponsored standardized test workshops where the teachers are trained in a blue-printing process for creating multiple choice questions. Then, they include diagrams, tables and pictures in the form that the kids may see again in future Provincial Acheivement Tests. Questions might be analyzed with such statistical tools as the Discrimination Index which is a useful measure of item quality when the purpose of the test is to produce a spread of scores or in other words ensure a kind of bell curve.

While Provincial Achievement Tests still exist, these locally developed tests would best be implimented in the grades where PATs don't exist - grades 4, 5, 7, 10 and 11. Once PATs are gone, it would then only make sense for grades 3, 6 and 9 to have the same locally developed standardized tests.

Before we know it, we've potentially gone from having standardized tests at three grade levels to all grade levels.

I'm painting a potentially gloomy picture. Hence the name of the post: Crisis or Opportunity...

During the June 2 Inspring Education press conference, the minister of education Dave Hancock was asked about the future of the grade 3, 6 and 9 Provincial Achievement Tests. His comments were smothered by hesitation which, in my opinion, provides two messages: he would be happy to remove them, but he needs an alternative.

David King's comment should play as both advice and warning - if teachers don't lead the way with replacing Provincial Achievment Tests with the kinds of authentic performance assessments we know exhibit real learning, someone else will crfeate a replacement - but like Provincial Achievement Tests, it might not measure real learning.

Will this be a crisis or an opportunity?

You may have more of say in this than you think.

1 comment:

  1. As my fiancee (and probably also some famous person) likes to say, "When nothing is certain, everything is possible." :-)


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