Standardized testing at great odds with neuroscience advances

In early January I began the first of 4 “Brain School” courses led by psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel of the Mindsight Institute of UCLA. It’s actually a “Mindsight – Foundations” course, but it’s linked to leading-edge research by Dr. Siegel and colleagues combining neuroscience, psychology and epistemology. 

So far, I’ve found the course to be mind-bogglingly intense, interesting, exciting. That doesn’t surprise me and it wouldn’t surprise anyone who’s kept up with Dr. Siegel’s prolific outpouring of books and articles in the past 10 years into what he has coined as “Interpersonal Neurobiology”. Dr. Siegel would never let it be said he’s inventing this field; he gives ample credit to colleagues and predecessors who have helped him shape a new domain of knowledge. Yet the truth to share here is that the neurobiology and cognitive science insights of the last 15-20 years leave no doubt that earlier notions of human learning and intelligence were extremely simplified if not entirely inaccurate.

Coincidentally, this month I also began my 7th year of administering the standardized grade 4 and 7-level tests known in British Columbia as the Foundation Skills Assessment, or FSA, tests. The tests consist of roughly 2-3 hour-long blocks of questions and activities combined in a paper and online fahion by the Ministry of Education. 

Just as they have been previously, the tests are conceived to alledgedly test literacy, reading comprehension and numeracy. My overall impression of these tests remains the same as 7 years ago – that they are poorly conceived, and in only isolated examples, might provide an accurate profile of the skills they purportedly test (I’ve written on this previously in this blog). 

This week I also proctored a grade 10-level science test teed up as a BC provincial exam. It consisted entirely of multiple choice questions that were completed over 2.5 hours. When the test was completed and submitted I told the student, a remarkable young woman for whom this was her very first major test, to accept my apology on behalf of educators who considered such a test as an unacceptable way to measure authentic subject knowledge and merely a contrivance for expedient slotting and processing according to an absurd criteria.

Both testing experiences highlight a gulf that is widening between scientific research into learning and intelligence and an educational system that ignores such research, yet continues slotting and processing students no matter how absurd, inaccurate or harmful the process. 

If the Ministry of Education is truly committed to “Personalized Learning”, as it exhorts in its new Education Plan, this approach to testing must change. And if the teachers union (BCTF) is truly committed to supporting individualized learning, as it, too, shouts out in its public relations war with the Ministry, then its members must stop perpertrating the outmoded notions of learning and intelligence that unfortunately remain synonymous with schooling and evidenced by factory-oriented testing. 

And ditto for post-secondary systems of learning, too.

For information on my new book: Learn Your Way! SelfDesigning the Life You Really Want, Starting Now and to order a copy, go here.


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