EQAO needs review, moratorium on standardized testing

Update Thursday, September 23rd: I notice that my friends at Society for Quality Education would disagree with my recommendation for a moratorium on standardized testing until a full review is done on the process. In fact, it is most unfortunate, but what I see at SQE is a knee-jerk reaction against teachers, that if they “cheated” they should be fired.

Yes, I am a former teacher. But, at times I have been very critical on this blog of my fellow professionals. However, in this case, my reaction has more to do with the fact that I am also a former researcher. Stats and rankings can be manipulated and frankly, once the rankings come out, the students are completely forgotten.

If people see the school rankings as a form of public accountability, they have not asked themselves how they show accountability when only two subjects are being tested and those two subjects in a very limited way. In fact, if all we want is a snapshot that shows what children and youth know or don’t know in a very limited time frame, then randomized testing would make more sense.

For example, in the case of the ten Ontario schools that are accused by EQAO of irregularities, why is it cheating when children ask clarifying questions? I mean, they are taught to do that every day of the year except the few days they are writing these tests. My husband tells me that in the last public elementary school he was at prior to his early retirement, during the EQAO testing, his Grade six students just couldn’t understand why all of a sudden he was forbidden from saying anything. Their response was probably typical — they were both puzzled and rejected — “But, Mr. Crux, you always help us when we don’t understand what to do.”

Then there is the issue of dictionaries, a compensatory device kids are taught to use, just as you and I use the spell checker on our computers. So, if they are always supposed to use their dictionaries in class but not during an EQAO test, just what skills are being assessed? What they don’t know?

All schools are not the same because of many factors so to judge one school against another on the basis of a limited snapshot is just not helpful. In fact, how very demoralizing that must be for teachers, parents and the kids themselves. I remember when I was growing up in the 1960’s. We had high schools that were academic, technical or commercial and believe you me we knew without saying that the latter two were the dummy schools. Unfair? Definitely, but kids know no matter how much or how little we talk about inclusion.  We had government departmental exams in those days and I believe they were far more humane and worthwhile than EQAO tests because they assessed individual students, not only in English and math but science and history as well .  

However, all that said, there is also the other side of this situation. Whenever teachers brag that their methods of evaluation are superior to those of EQAO, I say prove it. Give the parents a form of reportage that really means something. Not warm fuzzy anecdotal comments but a summative evalution type of report card that shows alphabetical letters and/or percentages.

So, were the teachers cheating or are EQAO (a publicly funded agency that receives between 50 and 100 million dollars annually to operate) rules too rigid and narrowly focused?

Without a doubt, like the faith-based funding issue in 2007, the EQAO and its testing procedures are going to be a major part of the 2011 Ontario election campaign because the teachers’ unions will make it so, even if McGuinty and Hudak try to avoid it. So, Hudak has better start framing his response now!

Original article starts here:There needs to be a review of agencies like Ontario’s EQAO, as well as a moratorium on annual school-by-school standardized testing. Hopefully Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak will challenge Liberal leader and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to defend the millions his government is spending annually on such a badly flawed process.

So, mark down the date. Sandy Crux actually agrees, in principle, with something the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is proposing albeit with a proviso. I agree that yes, there definitely needs to be a moratorium on annual standardized testing until there is a thorough review of EQAO. My proviso? Randomized standardized testing should be considered instead and there needs to be significant changes to the various report card formats — to include concrete student achievement criteria such as the use of As, Bs, Cs and Ds. You know, the same categories students will get at the college and university levels.

What should report cards report?

Why? Because what parents really want is testing that tells them exactly how their children are doing in relation to their peers and reportage that gives that information in concrete terms. No more “is improving” or “progressing” or something similar. An “A” used to say that students had performed at an almost perfect level and grasped the entire concept, a “B” was well done but not perfect and a “C” was average.

And, teachers working in ESL and special education contexts can use the same alphabetic grades, albeit it at different levels. Oh, I know, we supposedly eliminated labels and streaming with the common curriculum from Grades 7 to 10. Yet, we still ended up with general, college and university bound because the reality is, equity and inclusiveness aside, not all students are the same — what apparently is now referred to as “differentiated instruction.”

What exactly do we learn from standardized test results?

Anyway, my main point of presenting this discussion are the millions of dollars (likely adding up to a billion since its inception in the mid 1990s) that are being spent to run EQAO and other similar provincial agencies that could perhaps be put towards more productive uses. I mean, what exactly do the standardized testing stats actually tell us?

  • Do they prove our students are learning? Only in a very general abstract way.
  • Do they improve education? Not in any concrete practical way because we don’t have a clue who did what.
  • In other words, do parents actually get a handle on how their child is doing? No, they don’t.

In fact, I would go so far as to say, the only people who are really benefitting from the standardized scores are the organizations who use the scores to develop school ranking reports. So, what I would like to know is exactly how those ranking reports are useful when all they do is pit schools against schools, school boards against school boards and communities against communities? And, oh yes, we mustn’t forget how the rankings pit real estate agents against real estate agents — particularly those who are trying to sell properties in neighbourhoods where there are low ranked schools.

In other words, where is the real accountability? Where is the real proof of value?

Alleged irregularities from the EQAO process

Then, there is the other problem that EQAO calls “irregularities.” As this CBC article explains, ten Ontario schools are being investigated for simply doing what teachers have always done.  For example, students learn at a very young age that they need to be able to ask the teacher questions. So, they are taught how to do that. In the junior grades, they are also taught how to use a dictionary. In fact, it is part of that division’s language arts curriculum. As well, students are taught how important it is to edit and revise their written work.  

Yet, EQAO rules are that teachers can do nothing to help their students deal with the tests, nor can the students use the skills they have been taught, such as how to effectively use a dictionary. And, how does Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s respond? “There is no excuse for teachers to break the rules.”  Talk about denial and a head-in-the-sand attitude!  Maybe it’s the rules that need to change!

What standardized tests actually do or don’t do

For more information about the problems with standardized testing, go to this link and take a look at this video with University of Ottawa professor Joel Westheimer. It is only 9.42 minutes long and worth every second. Yes, I know, the video is a link to ETFO’s website, but that shouldn’t matter. Yes, the teachers who make comments are either school union reps or ETFO officials. But their comments do not in any way change the reality that the testing process is not only extremely stressful for all concerned, but a seemingly expensive exercise in frustration.

Challenging the political leaders

However, given all the vested interests in maintaining EQAO and similar agencies, combined with the school rankings, this topic is a huge political hot potato. Randomized testing, for example, while providing parents with the same kind of data they want, would be of no use for ranking schools.

Meaning, this surely would be a worthwhile topic to fight the Ontario 2011 provincial election — and a challenge I hope Hudak considers because:

  1. It is about spending taxpayers money appropriately,
  2. It would provide parents with a variety of student achievement data; and
  3. Teachers would have to pick the side of the moratorium.

5 thoughts on “EQAO needs review, moratorium on standardized testing

  1. Over 100 million dollars is spent annually in administering the test and providing support to help schools improve their EQAO scores. This money would be better spent elsewhere. The test has no proof of value and is used for all the wrong reasons.

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  2. NCLB in USA is a 20 year failure of the test and punish system. Finland has almost no testing and leads the world. There is no relationship between testing and achievement. None.

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  3. Doug — I hear you but I also hear parents who want some type of accountability. So, if that is the case, let’s call a spade a spade. The testing is nothing more than a snapshot at a given time and place on a narrow skills area. Randomized would produce the same result without the same frustrations and anger. In other words, let’s not say the tests have anything to do with achievement. They are simply examples of where the kids stand in certain literacy and math skills areas. I mean, actually, they don’t even show that if kids normally use a dictionary or calculator and then are not allowed to use them during the testing. If they want kids to not use them, then they should not use them ever.

    Can you supply a link to research that shows there is definitely no relationship between testing and achievement, no matter where it is in the world?

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  4. New post up. I did some digging on the CTBS series of standardized tests and the good news is that they are still available from Nelson. What is especially good about them is that they are available in all subject areas, including literacy and math. And, there could be no school rankings because Nelson would not allow their stats to be used by other private organizations. The reality is, the CTBS would cost a fraction of what EQAO costs to run.

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  5. I believe test supported need to read the research from the University of Texas that demostrated conclusively that as soon as Bush instituted a test and punish system in Texas, the Latino (Mexican American) dropout rate skyrocketed. The researcher concluded that testing regimes demoralize marginal students and encourage dropping out. This is compounded by pressure on schools to raise their results. The fastest way to raise results is to persuade the marginal students to leave.

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