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McLean, Leslie D.

Toronto, Canadian Education Association, c1985. 63pp, paper, $6.00, ISBN 0-920315-08-9.

Reviewed by Joan McGrath

Volume 14 Number 3
1986 May

This report to the CEA (Canadian Education Association) on policies, practices, and uses of assessment of student achievement in Canada is a dauntingly scholarly document, but one that rewards the reader's efforts with a clear overview of the perceived state of student evaluation at present, problems with current practice, and a forecast of future developments in this important field.

Current public interest in quality control and accountability, and the oft-voiced fears that standards are declining in the schools of today, are at least in part a function of lack of public understanding both of educational practice and of methods of reportage currently in use. The McLean study reveals that apart from parental, almost entirely subjective interest, the chief consumers of student evaluation are potential employers and post-secondary institutions.

Of the two, employers tend to be far more interested in student attitudes than in the marks they have achieved. They look for "performance, productivity and permanence," and generally express doubt that these desirable traits have much to do with the prospect's "book learning." Post-secondary institutions, on the other hand, have an extraordinarily powerful effect upon marking practice in secondary schools, when one realizes that only approximately twenty per cent of the student population aims at entry to higher education, and that for other students, college and university expectations are irrelevant.

It will surprise no-one that there is a general dissatisfaction with the forms of test ing currently in use, though no cure-all solutions are offered. Indeed, "there is a general recognition of the need to monitor student achievement. . .but in ways that are defensible, equitable and just. There is evidence that although there are exceptions, testing practices and test construction are basically inadequate."

McLean makes the point that "the present climate of uncertainty will yield more traditional examinations in the near future." He predicts a coming clash between traditional examinations over yesterday's basics in the face of today's technology. Probably the most thought-provoking statement in the entire document is McLean's warning that "It will take the judgement of Solomon to move fast enough but not too fast." His recommendations for the evaluation process should be read by all teachers. Reader response is solicited. Available in French as I, 'Evaluation des élèves au Canada: un métier.

Joan McGrath, Toronto Board of Education, Toronto, Ont.
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