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Learning at its Best

Inclusion and Standardized Tests

Plans can be important… but it’s important to ask who the plans are for.
Most school districts have education plans. So I want to know… who are these education plans for?
I am familiar with one school district’s education plan where one of their goals is Inclusion of All Students. The priorities for this goal are two-fold:

  • Each student is engaged in meaningful learning that is appropriate to his or her abilities and takes place in the most enabling environment.
  • Each staff member has the ability to meet the diverse needs of all students.

Inclusion is an impressive goal, and one that I applaud. I honestly can find no fault with the two priorities above. This is all very impressive.

No matter how sweet your strategy smells, it’s important to occasionally pause and check on the results. In other words, how will this district know if they’ve accomplished inclusions for all?

In the Outcomes section of this Education Plan it states that one of the measures will be participation rates in Provincial Achievement Tests. The idea here is that if more kids are included in the mainstream classes, rather than excluded, more kids will write Provincial Achievement Tests in grades 3, 6 and 9.

Let’s consider how this Education Plan could play out:

Scenario 1:
A school district plans on inclusion for all students and measures their success by looking at the participation rates on the Provincial Achievement Tests. High-needs, reluctant learners are included in classrooms with their peers, and educators are provided the necessary supports. When the district looks at the participation rates on the Provincial Achievement Tests, they see lots of kids writing the test, so school board trustees, senior administrators and administrators can report MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Scenario 2:
This scenario differs only in that the necessary supports are not provided for educators to successfully implement inclusion for all students. High-needs, reluctant learners are still included in classrooms with their peers, and the participation rates in Provincial Achievement Tests are still climbing, so it is again reported: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Can you see how using participation levels in a one-day standardized test at the end of the year can nullify an entire year’s worth of work on behalf of the teacher and learning on behalf of the student? Regardless of the scenario — whether educators are supported or not — using participation levels on Provincial Achievement Tests will signal that inclusion was successful. Either way, the policy-makers, senior administrators and administers will say that they did their job and the plan was successful.

Are you as concerned as I am?

Let me explain.

One of the number one concerns raised with inclusion for all students is that inclusion can end up being code for integrating children, who need the most help, with their peers without providing educators the necessary supports to make it happen. In other words, inclusion can be used as nothing more than a smokescreen for policy-makers to show progress on paper while doing nothing productive in reality. In this context, inclusion becomes yet another victim to education jargon for consumption on the evening news.

When inclusion is a front for doing the right thing for the wrong reasons with little to no support, is it any surprise that educators become cynical and suspicious of inclusion?

Let me be clear, I am in favor of inclusion for all students.

My objections for such an education plan has nothing to do with their goal — rather, my contempt is reserved for how policy-makers and senior administrators continue to use standardized tests as an indicator for what goes on in the classroom. I find it grossly ironic that such education plans are sold as mechanisms for accountability. At the very least accountability should be about transparency — that is people should be privy to the information they need to know what is happening in their schools, and yet as I’ve shown above, standardized test scores as an indicator for inclusion is nothing if not deceptive and opaque.

So who is this education plan and others like it for?

Based on what I’ve explained above, I defy anyone to look me in the eye and say that all this is for the kids…

…the only people who prosper from an education plan that uses standardized test scores as an indicator for inclusion are those who wrote it.

About joebower

I believe students should experience success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information.


2 thoughts on “Inclusion and Standardized Tests

  1. Very well put! At a gathering with one of the “Action on Inclusion” folks from Alberta a couple of weeks ago the question of what they were trying to achieve was asked. To which there was no answer. And so someone else asked how they would know if their “Action on Inclusion” was successful. The answer to this was to pull up data on provincial achievement tests and carry on about how things can be tracked based on codes. We were also told at that point that contrary to what had been previously communicated that they have no intention of eliminating codes but rather they just intend to make it known that coding doesn’t equate to funding. It was evident from their display with the tracking system for provincial achievement tests that the government still feels they need the codes so that they can do exactly what the school division you refer to is doing – equate “inclusion” with participation on a once every 3 years exam. Not convinced that the policy work that is being worked on will actually equate to authentic inclusion.

    Posted by Monica Braat | July 28, 2011, 7:43 pm
  2. As usual, you hit on many important points that serve as barriers to meaningful ed reform. I’d like to add this to the conversation. Assessments should not be administered to students based on their date of manufacture. Students are developmentally different, have different strengths and weaknesses, and may not even speak the language.

    How on earth does it make any sense to test a student using material s/he can’t even read? This is done all the time and it makes absolutely no sense. Students should be assessed to find out where they are using material they understand. This means that in an inclusive bi-lingual class the assessments delivered would look VERY different for each child and they would provide a much clearer picture into where that student actually is and how much they have grown. When we do that, we also must remember, despite the skewed data and research about test results measuring teacher effectiveness, often a teacher has very little to do with a child’s assessment results. Factors that weigh in more heavily and are out of teacher’s control consist of development level, intellectual ability, ability to understand the language, parental involvement, and interest in the subject they are forced to take.

    Finally, the reality is we should not be wasting billions on testing. Teachers are paid and trained to assess children. Let them do their jobs. Keep the publishing companies out of it and save billions of dollars that could go toward providing additional resources for children.

    Posted by Lisa Velmer Nielsen | December 15, 2011, 1:09 pm

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