Student taking a math test. (Pixabay photo)

David Marsden: Students need more testing, not less

Testing has been central to Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s through rigorous testing that the province has enjoyed the success it has in containing the spread of the virus.

More than 1.5 million tests have been conducted in the province, giving health authorities the edge and helping to avoid further illness.

It begs the question why broad testing for COVID-19 is viewed as prudent, but evaluation in classrooms to measure students’ ability to master the curriculum amid the pandemic is seen as unnecessary, or a hardship.

There is a growing movement to cancel provincial achievement tests and diploma exams.

Surely, if we care about the success of students, we should be determining if young people are paying a price for the suspension of regular classes in March and their resumption this fall under challenging conditions.

Everyone is doing their best — teachers, students, administrators and support staff — to make the most of the trying circumstances.

Teachers deserve our respect and appreciation as never before.

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But if classroom learning isn’t what it used to be because of the pandemic and the compromises it has demanded, we need to understand that and quantify it to the best of our ability.

Many people are suffering from the consequences of the pandemic, even if they’re not stricken with the virus.

We know that patients with heart disease and other ailments have suffered worse outcomes or death because the health-care system has been doggedly focused on COVID-19.

It appears that rates of depression, divorce, alcoholism and suicide among Albertans have risen during the pandemic.

Rather than having less testing, if anything, the school system needs more.

Far from punishing students, exams such as the provincial achievement tests acknowledge the importance of a grasp of essential skills such as addition and subtraction and reading comprehension.

“Provincial achievement tests are administered annually to all Alberta students in grades 6 and 9,” says Alberta Education.

“These standardized tests reflect the essentials that all Alberta students are expected to achieve, regardless of school choice or location.”

The tests “determine if students are learning what they are expected to learn, report to Albertans how well students have achieved provincial standards at given points in their schooling, and assist schools, authorities and the province in monitoring and improving student learning.”

We would never think someone suspected of suffering from diabetes should forgo testing during the pandemic because it might add to their stress.

Why would we think it’s wise to ignore possible gaps in learning and force students to struggle in years to come?

Why would we believe we’re doing young people a favour by pushing them along to another grade and another set of teachers without knowing they possess the skills to be successful?

Surely, we want to identify areas that require improvement and provide the resources that are necessary. We can’t do that if we don’t pay attention.

Tests aren’t meant to trick or trap up students. They’re designed to measure success at achieving the goals of the curriculum.

That is not a bad thing. That is not a luxury, either.

Our students deserve our full attention during the pandemic, not what’s easiest.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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