Ontario’s NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, has made an election promise to get rid of EQAO testing and replace it with sample testing. The acronym stands for education quality and accountability office, they are responsible for standardized testing that takes place in grades 3, 6 and 9 to establish benchmarks for academic standing in reading, writing and math. The testing began in 1995, where the then Conservative party felt that it would be an accurate portrayal of teacher accountability. Teachers and education administrators had hoped that when the Liberal party took over in 2003, they would re-evaluate EQAO. However, according to Craig Smith, president of ETFO’s Thames Valley teacher local, they only doubled the testing down and shifted its focus to be less on teacher accountability and more on student achievement.
However, both Smith and NDP candidate for Elgin-Middlesex- London, Amanda Stratton, say that standardized testing is not an accurate portrayal of where students stand in their day to day learning. Smith says “the fundamental, philosophical challenge that most of us in the federation have with standardized tests is that the test itself is meant to see where students are in this artificial sort of deadline as opposed to how they’re doing in their learning. I think that’s a fundamental problem for us as teachers because our job is to teach and to ensure that students are learning the concepts and then transferring these concepts. We’re teaching to a test.”
When EQAO testing first began it was a 10 day long test, which has moved down to 2 and a half in recent years. The pressure to do well on a test that Smith says is seen as “an event that’s really a non-event” affects students and teachers.
Amanda Stratton says in her experience as mom, when her oldest daughter was in third grade “most of her class really believed that if they didn’t pass the EQAO test, that they would fail third grade and wouldn’t go on to grade 4.” She said that teachers responded to that quickly and assured them that the test would not determine their eligibility for the next grade. However, this fear demonstrates the immense amount of pressure that is placed on students to do well.
Stratton continues by saying that it turns into a competition amongst school boards as well as in schools within those school boards, “teachers in the test grade classrooms feel a lot of pressure that they need to do well to prepare their students, that will impct their career and what grades the can teach, if they’re not getting good results from the EQAO for their school and their board.” The pressure is applied to teachers in non-test grades to help in preparing students for their testing.
EQAO results are even used by realtors as a selling point. Realtors will use scores to encourage families to pick home in neighbourhoods that have the “best” schools. This move demonstrates how testing can be effected by socio-economic factors.
Stratton says that sample testing could help the curriculum by “giving teachers back that freedo m to develop a curriculum that works for their classroom and for their students.”
With socio economic factors, family factors and race, it’s a wonder if sample testing is the right model to accurately demonstrate a school’s benchmarks. Craig Smith says that “many of the federation would argue that it doesn’t because of it being disconnected, the inordinate stress that may cause inaccurate results due to test anxiety, there’s the thought that it doesn’t take into account the different socio economic situations in schools and the only folks that really benefit from it are realtors.”
The question that Craig Smith suggests people should be asking and starting a conversation about is does standardized testing really deliver? Smith encourages the ministry of education that if they really want an accurate portrayal of student achievement to consider visiting and evaluating the day to day. This could let them “get a regime in place that’s talking about making sure that the strategies that we’re using are the most effective and that the assessment and evaluation that’s coming out reflects student learning and where kids are. I think that’s a better model, does that mean you have to have a standardized test? Probably not, you need a mechanism of some sort, but it may not be a test.”
The Liberal party did not return requests for comment.