One of the frequent questions I get asked is about standardized testing in schools. Standardized tests Alberta studnets take include the Canadian Achievement Test (CAT), Provincial Achievement Test (PAT), or Diploma examinations.

Standardized tests are supposed to be a way for schools to see if students are learning the expected outcomes in the curriculum. They can be a useful tool to help assess where a student is at and where they may need focus/support.

But, standardized testing is not always the best measure of student understanding.

We know that students all learn in different ways and express their knowledge and thinking in different ways. This is especially true for students who are neurodivergent or have special learning needs. There are many factors that correlate to how well students do on standardized tests. One key factor is the socio-economic status of their families. 

Standardized test results are simply a snapshot in time.

All students writing those standardized tests are coming to school that day with their own sets of circumstances. What else is going on in that student’s life? Did they have breakfast that morning? Did they get enough sleep the night before? Are they facing unique challenges or pressures at home or at school?  

Unfortunately, these tests have become co-opted by some as a way to “rank” schools and then “sell” certain schools to prospective parents. Standardized testing should NOT be used to determine funding for schools, or to rank how “good” they are.  

School standardized test results are often taken out of context. How can we even compare a school that only admits students with honours standing to another school where many students are English language learners?  

Standardized testing should also NOT be used to determine how well a teacher is performing.  Too much emphasis on standardized test results can lead to “teaching to the test.”  This can mean a departure from using diverse teaching strategies for deeper learning to a greater focus on rote teaching and learning.  

We need to trust teachers to be the professionals that they are. Teachers are trained in many different ways of assessing students and in teaching methods for a variety of learners. A standardized test result alone won’t ever be able to get to depth of a teacher’s understanding of a student’s knowledge and understanding level when that teacher is given space to use a variety of assessment tools. 

While I see some benefits to standardized testing, I want to ensure school standardized test results are used properly – to inform the teacher, parent student team about areas where students may need some extra help. Standardized tests are just one tool in the toolbox to measure student learning and not a “be all, end all.”  

Let me know what you think. I’d like to hear your thoughts, too!