As someone who spent a decade working for the Student Evaluation Branch of Alberta Education as a researcher and Test Development Specialist, designing large-scale standardized tests, it may seem incongruous that I am such a vehement critique of large-scale standardized testing. The difference is, the Alberta tests (currently being phased out at the lower grades, as it happens) were written by committees of Alberta classroom teachers (experienced teachers in that grade and subject and still in the classroom), and were based on the Alberta Curriculum. That means, teaching to the test in Alberta meant actually teaching Alberta curriculum, which is, you know, mostly okay. The tests corresponded to what was taught
This stands in sharp contrast to the American situation where the tests are provided by private, for-profit publishers whose tests may bear no relationship to the curriculum being taught. That alone disqualifies the tests as appropriate measures of what children have learned, and leads to 'teaching to the test' meaning away from what students are supposed to be learning. Further, as publishers try to sell across as many jurisdictions as possible, the tests are geared to the lowest common denominator, rather than set to encourage excellence. They serve no useful purpose because, again in contrast to the Alberta exams, they collected no diagnostic information. Nor are the publishers tests written by experience classroom teachers currently teaching those course (and so, people in touch with the realities of the modern classroom, of the digital generation and so on) but rather by a tiny team of professional test writers. Who are not accountable to anyone other than the sales department.
So, I could make a case for the limited use of standardized tests as those programs are set up in Alberta, though I would be okay with their going away. They can be used to improve teaching, but not sure that money would not be better spent other ways. But I have yet to hear anyone make a convincing case for the use of publishers tests.
Anyway, go read the post on Dangerously Irrelevant. I'd have asked for permission to reprint it here, but it's a great education blog and has something great very day so want others to discover it...so am pushing you there directly.