All Posts Tagged With: "standardized testing"
Prof. Pettigrew: You’ll just need to trust us.
The most attractive and least practical idea in the world of Canadian universities is the notion that universities should be accountable for what students are actually learning.
After all, if taxpayers are funding universities, shouldn’t they have some assurances that students are actually learning what they are supposed to be learning? For that matter, if parents are footing a big part of the bill, shouldn’t they have some assurances too? And what about students? If they are trying to build a future based on a university degree, why can’t they guarantee a potential employer that they have some real skills?
When it comes to learning, are we just supposed to take professors’ words for it?
I encounter such arguments frequently, most recently in this piece by Maureen Mancuso. Mancuso quite rightly notes that it is silly and reductive to see university education merely as an investment, but wonders, nevertheless, why we can’t seek some changes to make us more accountable.
The reasons may surprise you
Alberta is as a maverick when it comes to higher education. The province prepares students for post-secondary better than its neighbors, has some of the country’s most satisfied students and punches above its weight in research.
Now there’s even more evidence that the rest of Canada should pay attention to how Wild Rose Country approaches higher education.
New University of Saskatchewan research, which included 12,000 first-year students, found that grades for Albertans tended to drop just 6.4 points from Grade 12, but fell as much as 19.6 points on average for students from another province. In other words, a student from Alberta who graduates with an 86 average is likely to end first-year as an 80 student, while students from that other unnamed province would average 66.
One reason Alberta’s students are much better prepared is that they study long and hard to pass provincial standardized exams, which account for 50 per cent of their Grade 12 marks. Students in other provinces are graded more subjectively, making it easier for teachers to give high marks.
The higher standards are well-known. In recognition of the high standards, the University of British Columbia automatically raises Albertan students’ grades two per cent when they apply.
But it’s a lot more than standardized tests that make Alberta’s schools succed. Here are six more reasons the rest of Canada ought to pay closer attention to Alberta’s higher education system.
1. Public funding of universities is highest in Alberta.
Statistics Canada says that 72 per cent of funding for Alberta universities came from public sources in 2009. The next highest was Newfoundland at 69 per cent. It was only 49 per cent in Nova Scotia.
2. Albertans outperform their peers well before university.
Alberta’s 15-year-olds came second in the world in reading and fourth in the world in science in the 2009 PISA study, the gold-standard international test. Those were the top scores in Canada.
3. Alberta has two teaching-focused universities that work.
Grant MacEwan and Mount Royal Univeristy have faculty who spend most of their days teaching, rather than conducting research—unlike nearly every university east of Edmonton. And both institutions score exceptionally well on the National Survey of Student Engagement. When asked “if you could start over, would go to the institution you are now attending?,” 50 per cent of Mount Royal seniors and 60 per cent of Grant MacEwan seniors said yes. The average is just 45 per cent.
5. Alberta’s transfer system works.
In Sept. 2009, nearly 12,000 post-secondary students transferred between schools in the province. Many of the transfers are from the provinces’ teaching-focused institutions and community colleges into big research institutions. Harvey Weingarten, then-president of the University of Calgary, told the authors of Academic Reform that transfer students are “academically indistinguishable.”
6. Even with teaching-focused universities, Alberta remains a research leader.
Despite having more students in teaching-only institutions and only 11 per cent of Canada’s population, Alberta holds 17 per cent of the Canada Excellence Research Chairs, which come with up to $10-million apiece. Alberta also has 12 per cent of the prestigious Vanier Scholarships. The University of Alberta has the second highest per-faculty research funding in Canada at $309,332.
Robyn Urback makes a case for levelling the academic playing field
Earlier this morning, Maclean’s posted a story about a growing group of teens (or rather, teens’ parents) who pay for their grades. The gist: High school students are forking over thousands for an easy ride. For students, this is hardly breaking news. Think of it like that time Mel Lastman summoned the army to clear Toronto snowbanks; everyone knows what’s going on, but for those involved, it’s just too embarrassing to talk about.
Now, I could be cliché and rant about the types of problems created by these pricey soon-to-be-university-acceptance-letters, but there’s a whole blogosphere of people out there who will do that for me. Rather, I’m going to make my case for what I see as the most viable solution: standardized testing.
If I’ve offended you with my blasphemy, I apologize.
I’ll back up. Now, I know the ministry has come up with the remarkably innovative solution of putting a “P” on students’ transcripts beside marks bought obtained at private schools, but I just can’t shake the nagging itch that something’s amiss. Call me a downer, but maybe that one character won’t be enough to completely overhaul university acceptance procedures nationwide. Damn half-empty glass; always distorting my perceptions.
Curves and scales and other equalizing measures would also be a waste of time, in my opinion. Rich mommies and daddies will always find a way. Truth be told, who’s to say they shouldn’t? It’s dog-eat-dog out there. So if you have the means and are comfortable conceding to the idea that your child’s 95 is on par with my 75 and the gum on my shoe, then go for it. Though I must say, a part of me can’t help but commend those parents for seizing the opportunity to provide advantages for their children. After all, who’s to say an earnest failure is any better than a subsidized success? You play the cards you’re dealt; if you’ve got a way to one-up your competition (whatever way that may be) and are comfortable with your concessions (who really needs “work ethic” anyway?) why not go for it?
Nevertheless, standardized testing, in my opinion, is the way to best deal with these discrepancies. (Should I allow some space for a dramatic pause?) I think it is the most objective and fair way to measure student success. But before I go on, I suppose a sort disclaimer is in order.