The New Brunswick government
needs to get its act together on education
and ensure its laudable goals are being met

It is troubling that a private think tank, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), is apparently the only agency in the region that is actively attempting to quantify and measure the success (or lack of it) of New Brunswick in meeting its stated goals of improving the education system in this province.

In the fourth annual report on education and schools in Atlantic Canada, AIMS reveals that New Brunswick high schools have stopped standardized testing, so there will be no way at all in future years to compare how the schools are performing from year-to-year; no way to measure if the goals of improving the education of our youths (and they have not fared well in past testing compared to other provinces) are being met; no way of knowing if the system is improving or, indeed, getting worse.

We find it mind-boggling that the Department of Education allowed standard high school tests to be dropped by high schools. How does the department expect to be able to know if and when it is doing something right? Or wrong? How can it even identify areas that need attention without a standard by which to measure its results? The answer is that it cannot – it has by its own actions kept itself in the dark. Is that deliberate; a way to avoid uncomfortable accountability to the public when the results show nothing has changed?

What genius in the Education Department decided dropping the tests was a good idea and that it could be justified by instead focussing testing in the early grades of the school system? This is not an either-or situation. Testing by reliable, unchanging standards, at all grade levels is required if the department or anyone else is to have anything but anecdotal evidence of how well the system is performing. Introducing lower grade tests is fine, but where is the logic to dropping the higher grade tests? There is no logic.

A department spokesman actually made it sound like the department was surprised that dropping the existing tests “left a hole at the high school level.” Rocket science, this is not.

The simple and inescapable fact is that without clear standards and measurements that are applied the same way, year after year, there is no way to judge how our schools are doing. It doesn’t even matter where we decide to set the bar or what standards are set – for if they are the same year-to-year and understood, then both improvement or slippage in performance will be readily evident and all will know what needs attention for improvement.

This is not a difficult concept to grasp, yet for yet another year those in charge of the education system in New Brunswick have failed to grasp it. We almost have to ask if perhaps that’s not a sign they themselves need to return to school.

As well, we have to wonder if it is not time for Premier Bernard Lord to make it clear that he expects the department and individual schools to make themselves accountable, implement standards that can be measured, reliably for comparison every year, and – given the experience and positive job AIMS is doing as an outside assessor of performance – to co-operate with AIMS in providing it the necessary data.