And So Test Prep Season Begins

This past week parent/teacher conferences were held at our school. It was an opportunity for teachers and students to share the many engaging learning experiences they’ve been involved in this year. This interactive timeline outlines some of them. I am so proud of my teachers for trying a variety of new approaches in order to engage our learners in a more relevant way. It’s exciting to walk around the school and see teaching and learning as I never have before.

Awhile back I wrote a post called Is Curriculum Thwarting Transformation? There, I argued that our provinces oversized curriculum is getting in the way of teachers trying to dig deeper into key learner outcomes through real world, authentic learning experiences. In order to get everything “covered” by the end of the year they have no choice but to skim the surface of important outcomes so students will at least have touched on everything. As we all know, that means staying at the lower end of Blooms Taxonomy. And if you’re a grade 3, 6 or 9 teacher with Provincial Achievement Tests staring you in the face, that ups the ante even more.

So with the final term underway at our elementary school, the grade 3 and 6 teachers are starting to prep for the test. Our superintendent @cdsmeaton has always told us that the PATs should not affect our teaching practice. “I am a staunch believer”, he tells us, “that a focus on excellent teaching will lead to excellent results, no matter how it’s measured.” I tell them the same thing. But it doesn’t quite play out that way in the mind of the individual teacher. PATs, existing as they are, leave teachers with a strong sense of responsibility to prepare their students to write them; and as long as the tests are administered in such a way that has very little to do with the type of learning teachers are being called upon to engage in, there will be a bit of an exit from engaging learning around this time every year.

Heres what I’m getting at:

Below is a question from the 2009 Grade 6 Social Studies PAT: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

EquityThe assignment below took place earlier this year at my school, addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Equity vs Equality

Teacher Blog Post to Students

Student Response

Student Response

And yet another project addressing the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Here is another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)


The assignment below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Rachels Simile Post

Yet another question from the 2009 Grade 6 ELA Provincial Achievement Test: (lower order Blooms and builds no competencies)

Reading Response

The blog post below addressed the same learner outcome: (higher order Blooms and builds countless competencies)

Michelle Reading Response

Many would say that my teachers should continue with these engaging and authentic learning experiences and the PATS will take care of themselves. The problem is that it takes time; much more time than is left over once the curriculum gets “covered.” Time that will now be needed to skim the surface, to prep for the test, to write the test, and to deal with a great deal of unneeded stress.

Is it fair to ask teachers and students to do both?

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning, Community Engagement, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “And So Test Prep Season Begins

  1. I like the title “test prep season begins” Greg. Sounds like such a farcical time that I know takes place in my school as well. I can only wonder how much less stress and emphasis would be placed on the test, if scores weren’t published. I know some will say it’s about accountability but in Ontario we have the EQAO test that sees schools’ scores get published, another standardized test where the school receives the results but no media publication takes place and a third test that is used for determining gifted learners (I have a comment on that one as well but will save it for another day). As you may expect, the test that teachers typically prep for is the EQAO. And teachers and administrators feel great stress in the lead up to testing season inspite of whatever messages come from the principal or even the supt. Competition can be a healthy thing at times but I really believe standardized tests end up creating a foolish competition that does not accurately measure the very things we know are the lifeblood of education. So we’ve written about it, we’ve scoffed about it and we’ve seemingly universally understood that it’s not the right way to go and yet…testing season continues. Hmmm


  2. Thank you for illustrating your point with such strong examples. It is clear how the 30 seconds it takes to answer the multiple choice questions does nothing to expand student thinking, compared to the work these teachers are doing. Their work, and the outstanding thinking of these children is invisible, and opportunities are limited, in a PAT environment. It is a platitude to tell teachers “teach well and the PATs will take care of themselves”, because, as you say, teaching well takes time, and requires a reduction in “outcomes” covered. Again, thank you!


  3. Jon David Groff

    Over the last two years, I’ve operated under the belief “that a focus on excellent teaching will lead to excellent results, no matter how it’s measured.” I’m no longer convinced this is true. I learned about the 21st C competencies two years ago and immediately began to put the ideas into practice. I did so under the assumption that these competencies are extremely important to my students for their lives outside my classroom, and, moreover, that if these are put into practice in my classroom that excellent results on the achievement tests would follow. Two years later, my standardized test scores are basically unchanged. The competencies seem to neither have hurt nor helped my students on these tests. And honestly, as far as the government is concerned, they need helped.

    I, however, would like to humbly disagree. After my diploma results came in this year for ELA 30-1 and 30-2, I no longer believe that excellent teaching wil lead to excellent results, no matter how it’s measured. When I teach my students that having an opinion and being able to defend that opinion is what’s important in life, but the diploma exam dares to demand my students identify the “correct answer” as defined by someone else, I don’t see a connection to what I’m teaching and how the students are being evaluated. The curriculum asks students to determine theme, and mood, and tone, and . . . and to be able to provide support for their answers. The standardized tests, however, ask kids to come up with the “best” answer (according to who?). And no option is given for students to defend their answer. The written portion of the exam is no better. I teach my students to utilize the resources they have available, one of which is collaboration. Collaboration is something that any real professional does on a very regular basis (and I prove it in class with multiple real-world examples). I teach them to think creatively which is proven to require time to do: Creativity leads to better ideas and different perspectives. I teach my students to plan before writing, that the planning takes more time than the actual writing. The diploma exam, on the other hand, does not allow collaboration, severely limits the time students are allowed to take (writing two essays in 3 hours is NOT a part of the curriculum), which means students do not have time to be creative/critical, nor do they have time to plan their work adequately.

    I continue to believe that my students benefit from my excellent teaching (how do I say that without sounding egotistical) but I no longer believe that that this teaching will aid them in achieving excellence on a standardized exam. For now at least, I’ve decided to continue to prepare my students for life after government tests.


    • Thank you for this thought provoking comment. As an elementary principal I appreciate gaining a better understanding from the high school perspective. I feel bad for teachers like you who make learning relevant for your students. Those who don’t (and there are a few out there) hang their hat on DIPs because its easy to do so. If our premier ever puts her talk into action, PATS may see their end in the near future. DIPs, on the other hand, seem to be entrenched in the post secondary entrance culture. I’d say you’re stuck with them as they currently exist until that changes. Thanks again.


  4. Pingback: And So Test Prep Season Begins | 21st C Learning |

  5. While vocabulary can be one of the easiest sections for which you can ensure success in standardized tests, it’s also usually one of the most intimidating for my test prep students in Dhaka City.


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