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REF NO.: 88

SUBJECT: Memorial University instructor co-authors report calling for review of standardized testing

DATE: March 7

Note: This news release replaces previously issued release No. 85.
Sébastien Després, a PhD candidate in Memorial’s Department of Anthropology and a 2012-13 Action Canada Fellow, has co-authored a report analyzing the place of standardized testing as an accountability measure in the Canadian kindergarten to Grade 12 education system.
This transdisciplinary task force report is the fruit of Mr. Després’s participation in the year-long Action Canada Fellowship Program – a national public policy and leadership development program for emerging Canadian leaders.
“A review of standardized testing in Canada is not only timely, it’s urgently needed,” said Mr. Després, who is also a sessional instructor in the Department of Geography. 
He said that when standardized testing was established in Ontario two decades ago, the Royal Commission that recommended the creation of the province’s Education Quality and Assessment Office (EQAO), and the adoption of standardized testing in the province, also recommended that a five-year review be undertaken. Almost 20 years later, the review has yet to be done.
“As things stand, the current testing system may or may not be facilitating the achievement of the education system’s range of objectives,” said Mr. Després. “A review of this accountability measure should be a top priority.”
Recognizing the importance of education, many jurisdictions across Canada have turned to standardized testing as a means of ensuring accountability for results. Newfoundland and Labrador currently tests for literacy and numeracy in Grades 3, 6, 9 and 12. Sciences and social sciences knowledge is tested in Grade 12; the Grade 12 testing comprises 50 per cent of a student’s final grade.
In some circles this measure has become controversial, as stakeholders – and the public as a whole – are polarized as to whether standardized testing is an appropriate way of evaluating students and the overall quality and effectiveness of education systems in light of their objectives and curricula.
Mr. Després said that standardized testing regimes are time-consuming enterprises that can have an important impact on the classroom experience.
“We know that not all students are motivated by marks and academic achievement. We also know that when these things are prioritized over others, instruction can become boring, and kids become disengaged.”
The report, Real Accountability or Illusion of Success?, explores how standardized testing can impact teaching as a profession and echoes earlier studies indicating how an over-emphasis on test scores can diminish teachers’ roles in determining the content and methods of instruction, casting teachers as efficiency experts who carry out instruction determined by someone else.
The report also explores how standardized testing can also shift attention away from the presentation of the full breadth of a given province’s prescribed curriculum, to a narrowed focus on what they measure: literacy and numeracy.
A work of art by Quebec artist Josée Pedneault and a short animated film featuring drawings from Manitoba artist Ben Clarkson accompany the report, creatively showing the adverse effect that standardized testing regimes can have on the teaching of the arts, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and a list of other skills and competencies prescribed by provincial curricula.
“Recognizing that the means by which we strive to make our education system transparent necessarily have an impact on these systems is a good first step in a bold direction,” said Mr. Després. “We are hopeful that this recognition will go a long way in occasioning a change in priorities from a focus on test scores to a focus on the ultimate purposes of education.”
To view the report, visit The task force Twitter feed can be found at and the task force Facebook page is   

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For more information, please contact Sébastien Després, Department of Anthropology, Memorial University, at or (709) 334-1166.


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