Standards tell us what, exactly?

It’s time for a bit of a history lesson, folks. This one is on standards.

Back in the 1990’s, the Department of Education of this Province (despite teacher concerns) decided to adopt Outcomes Based Education (O.B.E.) as the model upon which to develop curriculum. This highly controversial model set out a specific set of goals (outcomes) that students would be able to accomplish by the end of their time in public school. This would be one of the key decisions that would lead us down the road to the current debacle we have in education today. The “no zero” policy, the cold “cut and paste” report cards, and the constant testing, testing, testing can all be traced back to this pivotal moment in education history.

There is a heap of research out there, largely ignored by policy makers, which questions the value of standardized education in the first place. In 2000, Alfie Kohn wrote that students who demonstrated a lack of depth in their approach to education scored well on standardized tests. In his book DRIVE (2010) Daniel Pink reported that focusing on such things as taking a standardized test can cause people to become one dimensional in their approach to thinking and can decrease creativity. The list goes on and on.

So, we know that standardized tests can encourage one dimensional thinking and hamper creative thought. Well, here’s an idea. What if we get rid of them all together?

Standardization was brought about by fear. The fear that students in one part of the province were receiving a “better” education than students in another.  There was absolutely no evidence to support this idea at the time standardization was implemented. Universities were not decrying certain schools as producing poor students. Employers were not identifying certain school boards as places to avoid when looking for talent.

And what of today? Are the kids from the Chignecto board doing better in first year University math courses? We can’t tell, since universities themselves do not share a common standard. Are they more successful? Define success. Are they happier?

Despite millions and millions and millions of dollars spent, all standardization gets us, at the end of the day, is the ability to crow about test scores.

 If you want high educational standards in this province, there is a simple fix.

Let teachers teach.

On June 28th, Minister Jennex said “…we have faith in our teachers to accurately evaluate their students.” Well, Minister Jennex, prove it. Teachers are professional educators. Let them test the kids. Let them be accountable for educating our youth. Let them take students through the curriculum relying on expertise and experience instead of some artificial external assessment. Let’s stop confusing standards with standardization.

I guarantee that the students from Chignecto would do just as well in first year University, heck in life, if there were no provincial exam. And you know what, they would probably do better. Because then there would be more money to offer them and others a truly exceptional and enriching education.  Let’s stop spending on testing and get back to spending on kids.


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