At that time, the test was considerably longer than it is now, and it was not uncommon for teachers to review the booklets a few days prior to see what was coming, and to arrange their day plans accordingly (the teacher guide included copious notes, scripts for what to say to students and when to say it, and so on, so there was a lot of prep work to be done).
Trevor and I were teaching Grade 6. It was his first year. I remember taking a
The next week, EQAO issued a statement that there had been a misprint. We weren’t stupid after all.
Since that year, I have crossed paths with EQAO a few times: I wrote stems for the Grade 9 test one summer, taught Grade 3 a few years here and there, and used the data to guide my workshops and meetings with teachers and administrators in schools as a Resource Consultant when I was one.
Teaching Grade 3 again this year, I am reunited with the mammoth provincial assessment, and I have cause for reflection.
“What is it?” asked my students earlier this year.
“My mom says it tests the teachers”, offered one girl in my class last week.
“It has changed teaching in this province for the better”, noted my first principal and mentor for many years, Thelma Jarvis, some years ago when I was lamenting this behemoth that drives so much of how we do business in schools now.
While I agree that the inception of “the test” forced educators across the province to sit up and take notice of their practice and how to improve it, I believe that the provincial assessment has served its purpose, and now causes more harm than good.
I have a number of concerns about EQAO testing:
1. EQAO only tests pencil and paper demonstration of TWO subject areas: Language and Math. If we agree that people learn differently are intelligent in a variety of ways then why are we perpetuating a system that favours linguistically and mathematically intelligent learners? Further, how can different learners accurately demonstrate the breadth and depth of their mathematical and linguistic understanding on a mere pencil and paper test?!
2. EQAO disrupts the flow of learning and causes undue stress for our neediest students. Our school hosts numerous students with special learning needs. The countless hours our school’s Grade Three teachers and support staff have spent filling out paperwork and creating schedules and rearranging the school timetable for the two weeks of the test are hours that could have instead been spent helping students learn. Furthermore, parents and students alike report disruptions to sleep, increased anxiety and other unpleasant symptoms related to “test stress”, despite constant reassurances that it doesn’t “count” for passing the grade, and that it is just there to provide us with information so that we can become better teachers in supporting their child’s educational needs. Unless there are extreme circumstances, every child must write the test. Every child, even the ones who just recently arrived in Canada, and barely speak, read or understand English!
3. EQAO data is misleading. Remember those kids I just mentioned? Guess what their test scores are going to be like? And – despite the fact that their difficulties are ESL-based, and not related to their intelligence -- those low scores get averaged in with the rest of the school’s, as do the 0s from students like the two non-verbal ASD students in my school’s special education class, who are exempted from writing the test, because, due to their disability, they can’t even write their own name. So, a school with a high special ed population at Grade 3, or a school that is home to a large number of English language learners looks like it is not doing too well at all. But, given the factors “behind the scenes”, such a school may in fact boast huge successes - the test doesn't tell the whole story!
4. EQAO is bad for communities. Because the test results are published in the newspaper, the public is very aware of individual school scores. Over the years, home buyers with children have increasingly made real estate decisions based on the local school’s test scores. They do this without considering the make-up of the local community, which may affect said scores (see #4 above), and so judgements are passed on schools, based on misinformation. Segregating communities like this creates “ghettos” of new Canadians and/or families with high socioeconomic needs, as well as areas where "privileged" students may be very sheltered from the richly diverse cultural and socioeconomic fabric of our province, thus demoting the very cooperative and integrated climate teachers hope to endorse!
5. EQAO is outrageously expensive. At a time when the government is proposing massive cuts to public education that would have severe and negative short and long term consequences to children in this province, it seems bizarre to spend so much money on something that has dubious value at best. Do we really want to trade in smaller class sizes, all day early learning programs, fair and respectable collective agreements and more for a test that taxes students, teachers and parents, and provides questionable data?!
6. EQAO makes the Arts disappear. In the years since EQAO has taken the main stage, I have -- with a few notable exceptions -- seen school Music, Art, Drama and Dance programs shrink, and it concerns me. Our students who excel in those areas and not necessarily in Language and Math – although they need to be taught Lang and Math skills, too – need opportunities to shine, or we will loose them. But when teachers and schools increasingly focus on Language and Math in isolation from the Arts, students who excel in these areas have diminished opportunities.
John F Kennedy once said, "...the life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose -- and it is the test of the quality of a nation's civilization."
Earlier this year, I visited a nearby school to learn about how they were using technology in the classroom. Their EQAO scores are very high, but at what cost? During a conversation with a staff member, I discovered they have ONE 40-minute gym class and ONE Arts class per cycle!!! I suspect JFK might have some comments about the quality of the civilization that school is cultivating!
A teacher in a neighbouring school board has put together a website: EQAnO raises awareness of the test’s negative impact on public education.
It okay to have an opinion about EQAO. Please make sure it’s an informed one.