I am pleased to have Sheila Stewart as a guest writer. I have been introduced to Sheila’s passion around education through Twitter and although Sheila is from Ontario, her thoughts on technology, standardized testing, and learning reach far beyond that province and her words tie in well with BC’s discussion around the local standardized test, the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA).
Sheila is a very engaged parent in the world of education. Her roles include:
- a parent of 2 teens in Thunder Bay, Ontario
- School Council Co-Chair at the High School
- Coordinator, School Council Chairs Network
- Parent member, Parent Involvement Committee
- Network member & online community moderator, People for Education, Ontario
- Follow her on Twitter at @sheilaspeaking
I shouldn’t let newspaper editorials get to me so…..but…..when they sound so definitive on education like this, Measuring Literacy
….other voices are needed…….so here was my response:
A recent editorial noted the variety of literacy activities highlighted locally during Ontario’s Literacy Week. The editorial, “Measuring Literacy” (Sun., Jan. 27) touched on technology, literacy, standardized testing, and associated outcomes. I also believe there are many ways to foster literacy development and demonstrate that learning. Everything is very connected, and impacts can be both negative and positive. The influence of technology can be overwhelming, but I have remained willing to consider the positive opportunities for education. I have continued to see examples of how technology as one tool in the learning environment can provide many opportunities to further support literacy, communication, collaboration, and engaged learning. As with any new technology, the use of it as a teaching tool can only be as effective as the training and experience of the teacher. Digital literacy doesn’t necessarily promote the use of sub-standard language skills per se. As with many things, there are always many variables that can impact skills and outcomes.
I am aware of many educators in Ontario and in other provinces who care deeply about creating authentic learning opportunities to help their students’ strengths, passions, and individual growth as citizens. There is much more to supporting learners that may not be reflected on a standardized test. And much more feedback on learning is important for students, and for their parents as well. If the individuals who spend time in classrooms are expressing concerns about the impact of standardized testing on the learning environment, then I say we should at least have a listen and not conclude that it is only about a fear of being evaluated themselves. It is my understanding that current standardized testing in Ontario is more of a “system” measure and much less to do with information about individual students and teachers.
I would also be cautious in saying that “parents”, in an all-inclusive way, value the information from standardized tests. Parents are diverse, as is our province. I know a number of parents who have become unsupportive of standardized testing and have concern about the impact of so much focus on these outcomes. Can we feel satisfied that all is well based on reports of one set of data?
There must be something valid to the concerns about standardized testing if so many provinces are involved in a debate about their usefulness in supporting student learning. I agree with the writer of the editorial, “Good education is essential to Ontario’s future.” For us in the north, I hope we continue to dialogue with all partners in education and keep asking the questions of why….what does that mean….what else is needed….is that enough….how can we help….as well as, what is possible with technology?
In my experience, teachers are constantly evaluating students’ progress in several different ways based on the PLOs set out in the provincial curriculum. I think that the parents who depend on the FSA to tell them how their children are doing in school may not be in close enough communication with either their children or their children’s teachers and are receiving very limited information. These tests only show how well a child does on this style of test in this testing situation. They don’t give any information about the quality of innovative ideas or critical thinking going on in the classroom, which I feel are the skills schools should be focussing on.
In my experience, teachers are constantly evaluating students’ progress in several different ways based on the PLOs set out in the provincial curriculum. I think that the parents who depend on the FSA to tell them how their children are doing in school may not be in close enough communication with either their children or their children’s teachers and are receiving very limited information. These tests only show how well a child does on this style of test in this testing situation. They don’t give any information about the quality of innovative ideas or critical thinking going on in the classroom, which are the skills I feel schools should be focussing on.
Shauna, you bring up some key points. The one I want to expand upon is the importance of communication. Some people have stated that these tests are needed to let parents know how their child is doing. If this is the need, that is where we need to focus our efforts: on communicating with parents rather than focusing on standardized tests. Through the use of technology, parents can have a better view into their child’s classroom – blogs, tweets, and photosharing can be a great way to let them know what is happening. We need to change the “how a child is doing” communication to be one that does not rank and sorts kids but explains their actual learning. Great comment!
Thanks for pulling all this together, Chris! Honoured to be a guest writer here! The twitter connections have been most inspiring!
Shauna, great points! A good thing to consider: The limited information from standardized tests. That, and as Chris said, the many ways to communicate to parents about student learning.
Thinking…..who is benefitting from the communication of standardized test scores?