Standardized Tests

Bob Cockburn was my university rugby coach. U.N.B. didn’t have the biggest team in the league but we more than made up for it in fitness. Having a fit team was one of his trademarks. He believed that in order to be ready to play against other teams, practices had to be harder than games – and they were. He accepted the fact that 20-30% of injuries would happen during practice. I almost dreaded practices, particularly pre-season, but I have never known fitness like I did back in those days. Thanks, coach, for stressing the importance of being prepared for the tasks which lie ahead.

Provincial Testing

During the early years of my career in the New Brunswick public system, province-wide testing made a comeback. I do not know what is happening now, but I think the scope and magnitude of testing peaked while I was a principal.

I could go on about my impressions of how the testing was carried out and how we (schools) were expected to treat the results, but I will save that for another time. What I thought was rather comical was that the results were norm-referenced; ie, when the results were posted it was in comparison to the overall district average, and the district results were compared to the average of the rest of the province. The message we were receiving was to develop strategies to ensure your school finished in the top half of the district, and, of course, the district wanted to finish in the top half of the province. The Department of Education has successfully created a culture of chronic dissatisfaction. If every school increased its results by 10%, half of them would still feel inadequate because they remained in the bottom 50%.

I was attending a provincial principals conference which included discussions about testing results. For one of the sessions, I found myself in a room with a dozen principals who were sharing strategies as to how to increase a school’s overall standing. Now I think the focus of the discussions should have been about how to enhance student learning, but, it was obvious to me, that a number of the participants were more worried about placing their school in the above-average category. I sat quietly. I wondered how many of these administrators believed that they would be perceived as not doing their jobs if their school finished in the bottom half of their respective districts.

Just before the hour-long session ended I finally spoke up and said, “Folks, I have a prediction to make, and I want you to be able to say you heard it here first. I predict that when the next round of results come in, 50% of the schools will finish in the bottom half of the province.”

“Well, you’re not very hopeful”, said a principal I did not know.

I suspect she wasn’t a math major.

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