Interesting and Predictable Article on Standardized Testing in Alberta Canada

Flickr Photo by Lauren Brown

This one caught my eye because I’ve done a good deal of work in Alberta lately — but also because of part of the title, Who can Unlearnall the Facts That I’ve Learned?.  It’s an article from VUE Weekly, an independent newspaper from Edmonton.  From my experience, standardized testing does seem to be a central part of education in the Province.  But I’ve also talked with educators there, who have a keen interest in what’s going on with education in Finland.

The article mostly refers to statements by Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, an education specialist at the European Training Foundation (ETF).  There’s nothing really new here for those who have questioned my country’s growing and continued reliance on standardized testing as an avenue to education reform.  But I found interesting, his explanation of the growth of the movement and the response by Finland.

From the article, Sahlberg says,

Sahlberg says that the reliance of standardized testing to judge the success of student performance started in England in the 1980s and quickly spread to North America, Australia and other developed nations. Sahlberg’s home country of Finland, on the other hand, was not swept up in trying out the new approach. 
“Scandinavian countries were not convinced that through competition education would be improved. Instead an idea of equality is pervasive—that every child needs to be provided with equal opportunity through good education,” he explains.
This perspective means schools in his country look different than those in countries that embraced standardized testing.
“For example, schools in England have only two or three core subjects in the curriculum, whereas in Finnish schools there is more of a broad focus that includes the social arts, based on the belief that the success of individuals is not solely achieved through the instruction of only math and sciences. The whole education system in Finland, from kindergarten to Grade 12, has no high-stakes external testing system,” he explains. (( Couture. Xanthe. “Standardized Testing: Who can Unlearn all the Facts that I’ve Learned?,” VUE Weekly 5 Marth 2009. Web.16 Aug 2009. <>. ))

Offering a U.S. perspective, Dr. David Berliner, of Arizona State University, defends standardized testing under certain specific situations.  “I would not want a pilot flying a plane unless he has passed all his pilot exams.”  He then continues,

..when high-stakes testing is applied to kids and can mean that they will not graduate and that teachers can get fired, this is a different situation all together.

There are problems with relying heavily on test data.

When you value an indicator too much you can predict that there will be corruption in the numbers because the people who administer the evaluation will corrupt the figures. This scenario has been found to occur in high-stakes testing in US public schools. There are documented cases of teachers keeping some students at home on test days, along with other measures, to get the best results possible.

I would suggest that over-emphasizing tested subjects or tested standards within a subject, at the expense of softer and less measurable elements of learning is another way that the data and our education system are being corrupted.

Reading through this, I was compelled to find some data on international comparisons of student achievement, finding this American Institutes for Research study (Chance Favors the Prepared Mind: Mathematics and Science Indicators for Comparing States and Nations [pdf]), reported in a November 15, 2007 Times Story (Study compares American students with other countries’).  NY Times said,

The study equated standardized test scores of eighth-grade students in each of the 50 states with those of their peers in 45 countries. Experts said it was the first such effort to link standardized test scores, state by state, with scores from other nations. (( Dillon. Sam. “Study Compares American Students with other Countries’,” The New York Times 15 Nov 2007. Web.16 Aug 2009. <>. ))

Here is the graph that shows my own state, North Carolina, with other nations, putting us fairly near the top in Math, bested by Singapore, Hong Kong, south Korea, Taipei, Japan, Belgium, Netherlands, Hungary, and Estonia.  We fair less well in Science, closer to the middle of the list.

Click the image to expand

So, I’m left with two questions.

Is this why we do what we do? Or is this why we do what we do?
Supposed to convey happy successful people
Flickr Photo by Mariëlle


Does a
on this..
lead to
Supposed to convey happy successful people
Flickr Photo by Mariëlle

What do you think?

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.