Killing Us Softly – Standardized Tests are the Death of Authentic Learning

I think the tests are killing us.

Instead of EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) they should be called SCALL (Scrap Creativity and Love of Learning) or LMAOC (Let’s Make Automatons Out of  our Children).


I won’t even get into the cost of writing the tests, printing them, mailing them, hiring hundreds of teachers to mark them, putting said teachers up in hotels and feeding them…

What’s more important is how the test is used to rate schools, teachers, principals and boards.  And how that rating translates into teaching to the test.  How teaching to the test removes authenticity from learning.

Instead of learning from Finland and their system based on equity, we seem to look to the US – a system based on competition.  Equity seems to be working out better for everyone – so let’s learn from them.

Finland consistently score high on the OECD Pisa test – The US – not so much.   Canada has had a good showing but that may be a thing of the past as we continue to become more and more standardized test centric – at least it seems we are in Ontario.

There is no word for accountability in Finnish.  Interesting.

What really bothers me is what I see.  All teachers have to teach the same reading strategies at the same time.   The joy of reading is lost when analyzing strategies takes over.  See this report by People for Education, ironically it uses EQAO data to show that children’s enjoyment of reading has steadily decreased since the test was implemented.

Writing is so structured there is almost no room for creativity at all.  Every task has to be assessed over and over.  The fun is beaten out of writing.

Old EQAO tests are printed off and used as teaching materials.  It becomes the program.

It’s boring.  It’s not learning how to learn, it’s learning how to beat the test and make your school look good.  Most teachers hate it.  Not because they are afraid to be judged but because it hurts their students.  I’m doing my best to keep it interesting.

I recently heard about the Silkwood School in Australia (I heard about it from Andy at the Green School – awesome place).  Here is a quote from their philosophy of education:

Silkwood’s educational program is uniquely student-centred and developmental.  ‘Student-centred’ means we judge successful teaching by the students’ engagement; ‘developmental’ means the child’s journey from the magic of early childhood to the argumentative world of adolescence is supported by carefully prepared learning experiences tailored to respond to specific age groups.  Silkwood’s pedagogy combines spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical dimensions of learning, offering a truly integrative approach.

That’s what I’m talking about!  Wow.

This is what has to change.  Formal academic education needs to be richer and more dynamic to engage human intelligence.

Please tell me what is happening in your school.  Does the program revolve around the test?



I won’t let it get me down though.  As they say on Galaxy Quest:





Beyond Just Writing

I’ve been reflecting on student writing lately and how often it is the required method of assessing knowledge.  All teachers know that for students who struggle with writing (and they are many) writing will not allow them to demonstrate their mastery.

So why then is writing used as an assessment tool so often?  Other methods can be messy and time consuming.  Students need to know how to use certain technologies, understand different modes of communication.  Teachers are required to assess so much with so little time.

Here are some I’ve heard/thought of:

  • Spoken word poetry (This will be my next experiement)
  • Photo blogs
  • Presentations with Animoto, VoiceThread or other programs
  • Podcasts
  • Video and film
  • Dramatic presentations
  • 3D representations
  • Comics using Bitstrips
  • Musical presentations (imagine an opera about Medieval Times or the Theory of Relativity)

I’m sure there are many, many more ways to present information for reluctant writers.

I realize this is not in any way a new thought or idea but I still see writing as the main assessment tool used in most subjects.

I used video for a health task on drugs and alcohol.  It took a really, really long time but it was worth it.  The students had to use what they learned in class to produce a public service announcement.  They had to create a storyboard using Bitstrips and then write a script.  They had to shoot and edit their films.  Then they had to analyze them using what we had learned in media literacy.  It was a great project that all the students enjoyed.  There were groups that did make silly films but since part of our analysis was the effectiveness of the public service announcement, they recognized that their silliness made their project less effective.

What alternate summative tasks have you tried?  Was the road rocky or smooth?  Was it worth a rocky road?

#Kony2012 “The Medium is the Message”

I learned an important lesson from the Kony 2012 viral video.  I learned that I’m not always critical of information I get from Social Media.  If I’m not critical it’s likely that my students aren’t either.  So I used this lesson as a teachable moment for my grade 8s.

On the Friday before March break the students are antsy.  So instead of a math lesson, we had a media lesson.  A fun and engaging one.

I showed them the Kony video (about 1/4 had already viewed it).  Their reactions were what you would expect:  horror, outrage, a desire to help.  We had a discussion about the issue, what Kony was doing, what a bad guy he is.  Then I filled them in on what little I know of the issue, with an emphasis on how little I know and how unqualified I am to comment.  I showed them my blog post on Urban Moms.  We discussed how I shared the video before I read any of the other information out there.  I told them I regretted sharing it so fast.

We looked at the contradictory information out there and most of them decided that they would not buy the package from Invisible Children without some more research.  That was my goal.  To have them think critically before doing anything like sharing or spending money.

This is not a criticism of Invisible Children or the Stop Kony campaign.  It is about how my own personal reflections became a spring board for a discussion of media literacy and critical thinking.  I think Social Media is a fantastic way to spread messages, but that is only slactivism.  Sharing on Facebook is not activism as it is not “doing”.  We only bring about change by caring first and then doing something.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”  The Lorax

Hello world!

Here I am!

I’ve created this blog to record my reflections on my learning, my students’ learning and my twin daughters, Sophie & Fiona’s, learning.

I hope you will join us occasionally.