Three things you should know about diagnostic assessment

During the past few years, there’s been a major push for schools to collect data about all elements of student learning. OECTA believes teachers should be able to use their professional judgement when it comes to the appropriate use of class time, and student data collection. So what do you need to know about diagnostic assessment?

It doesn’t always help kids

Teachers can put up with a lot if it helps kids. But the sad thing about diagnostic assessments is that they don't always help students.

As Steve Nelson, the head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan pointed out, “The assessments are dumped into a massive database, never to be seen again.” In her testimony to a 2012 provincial committee hearing on Bill 115, Dr. Lyn Vaus explained that a diagnostic test might be designed to establish whether students understand something such as “ing” at the end of a word, but will offer no subsequent useful direction to the teacher.

“To have to fill out paperwork which provides this data to the board serves little purpose other than that, in a distant future, someone from the board level can advise the teacher that the students are having difficulty with adding “ing,” and she should do something about that.”

It’s eating up valuable classroom time

In her new book, Schooled: Ordinary, Extraordinary Teaching in an Age of Change, Ann Lutz Fernandez describes the negative effect educational reform efforts are having on US schools and the American teaching profession. She specifically calls out school boards’ “fixation on collecting quantitative data” as something that’s taking away time from learning to assess every element of teaching and learning. 

It's profit driven

These tests are sold to boards by for-profit companies. In the US, this system has created a variety or problems, from unfair lobbying efforts to substandard products cheaply produced.

But Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a US non-profit that advocates against the improper use of standardized testing including diagnostic assessments, said he blames politicians, not companies, for the amazing growth of the testing industry. “In a capitalist society, if there’s a market, somebody will figure out how to serve it,” he said. “But the corporations reinforce the stupidity of the bad policies of politicians.”