Opting Out of EQAO

26 Feb

There are significant problems with the premise and application of the annual Education Quality & Accountability Office (EQAO) tests. I’ve discussed the history of EQAO and my concerns in a previous post and there are many more teacher and parent concerns raised on this blog post.

The Texas anti-testing movement has gathered momentum  and spread to Seattle and other jurisdictions. There has also developed a grassroots “Opt Out” movement where parents withdraw their children from school during standardized testing.

Ontario parents want to know if and how they can withdraw their children from writing the EQAO test. Some parents feel that the stress and anxiety of EQAO is too much for their child, while others disagree with the standardized testing of children.

Parents experience a variety of responses to their requests to ‘opt out’. Official statements are few and how strictly regulations are enforced varies. Some principals use the full extent of the regulations in pursuit of the highest possible EQAO scores while others are more supportive of accommodations and options.

EQAO Regulations

  • This is more clearly restated in the EQAO document  “EQAO TESTS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: A Guide for Parents” (2011): “All students who attend publicly funded schools in Ontario and who follow The Ontario Curriculum are expected to participate in EQAO’s provincial assessments. “
  • The FAQ on the EQAO website (question 5 under General Questions) uses stronger language saying “…all students in publicly funded schools must participate in these tests”.

Can Students Still Opt Out?

Listed below are methods used by parents who, in spite of the act, don’t want their children writing the EQAO test. Which tactics are most effective depends on the needs of the child and relationships with administrators and teachers.

Parents may find administrators more supportive of their decision to withdraw their child from EQAO if they inform them in writing. Administrators can use this to demonstrate that an empty test booklet is due to parent choice, not their lack of diligence.

  1. Exemptions: Parents have successfully argued that their child is unable to participate, even with accommodations, due to the stress and anxiety caused by the test, and in response principals have exempted students (“exemptions clause” page 13). Having the  accommodations required by the child listed in an IEP prior to any discussion may be helpful.
  2. Alternate Program: Parents negotiated an alternate program for their child during testing, after notifying the school that they were withdrawing their child from EQAO. A student might spend the day helping in a primary class, for example. This arrangement is only feasible if a small number of students in one school are withdrawing.
  3. Absence: Students can be absent during testing for a variety of reasons and EQAO allows for that (acceptable reasons for excused absences in Ontario schools can be found here). Some parents keep children at home on test days and report their children as absent due to “… sickness or other unavoidable cause”. They provide alternate learning activities or join with groups of parents to share child care. Notifying the principal and teacher in advance is advised.
  4. Family Vacation: EQAO states “If your child is absent on the day(s) the test is administered, the school can make arrangements to have your child write the test when he or she returns, but only if that happens within the specified two-week test period.” (answer to question 8 in general questions). Some administrators enforce this and notify parents that for students to avoid EQAO testing they must be absent for the entire two week testing period. Some parents schedule family vacations during this time. Ask at your child’s school what policies and procedures there are around family vacations during the school year.
  5. Disobedience: There are examples of families exercising disobedience through the EQAO test. One parent notified the school that their child will not be writing EQAO. The child will attend school but has been instructed by the parent, and understands and agrees, not to participate in the test. The test will be presented to the child but the child will not attempt it. They will read, draw, daydream, etc. while the other students write the test.

If there are other solutions or problems let me know through the comments or @acampbell99 and I’ll try and keep this post up to date with the latest ideas.

Much thanks to Sheila Stewart for her feedback and support with this post.

19 Responses to “Opting Out of EQAO”

  1. Adele February 26, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    Neither of my children have ever written an EQAO assessment (now ages 22 and 17). Option number 2, alternate program, worked quite easily and with no negativity from school staff. It’s a shame that the notion of choice is absent from EQAO discussions. Parents cannot make an informed decision when not given necessary information. Are teachers allowed to share this information? It seems like there’s a shroud of secrecy over it, teachers included. Any grade 3/6/9 teachers out there sharing information like this with parents?

    • ballacheybears February 26, 2013 at 7:53 am #

      I’ve wondered if the lack of hard information is intentional, in the hope that parents will be confused and just go along. I also wonder if the “every child MUST write EQAO” stance would really stand up in court. It seems to me that the language has softened recently from must to expected.

      • Adele Stanfield February 26, 2013 at 8:35 am #

        Where does it actually say “every child MUST write EQAO? Is it something we just all assume?

      • ballacheybears February 26, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

        The EQAO Act (1996) says “A pupil shall take any test administered to him or her” (links on the blog post). EQAO documents say ‘must’ (on their website) but a recent parents guide (2011) says all students are ‘expected’ to take the test.

  2. SStewart February 26, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    Thanks for pulling all this together, Andrew! It will serve as a good resource ahead.

  3. Jason February 27, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

    Thanks for putting this out in the public. There is a website dedicated to publicizing the negative impact of eqao. eqano.ca

  4. Emily blunt May 1, 2013 at 7:13 am #

    Thank you for this!

  5. chantilly lace May 1, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    Thanks for the articles, they were interesting. I am on the fence about EQAO testing. I administer it every year to my grade 3 French Immersion class. They do Math in French and Literacy in English. The Literacy test is for children who have gone to English school since JK/SK . Our students learn 100% French until Grade 3, then they get 75 minutes of English. When it comes to the Literacy test, they struggle because many are still below the grade 3 level. Also, the students dont hear the names Rajeed, Sanjeet, Juanita, very often. They get confused when they come across it in the test.
    The only good points of the test, is how I use it in class. I will choose a test question from a past test and give it to them to do independently. Then I give them the level 1-4 exemplars and ask them to put it in the order they think is 1-4. I let them know the right answer, and the order. Then they evaluate their own paper or sometimes give feedback to another student. HOWEVER these exemplars are sometimes wrong because what they consider a 4 is far from what most math teachers would consider a 4.
    I think that you should go try the math test. You would be surprised at some of the questions. Try question 9 on the link I posted below.. then look at the exemplars for the answer

    Click to access 3e_Math_0612_web.pdf

    • Jacqui May 28, 2013 at 4:41 am #

      Hi …I did this, but can’t find the exemplars. I’ll be interested in them, because I teach grade 4 and I thought it was a pretty sneaky question for 8 year olds! We do data management in October. Who would remember what the mode is? Even I get confused with mean and I’ve been teaching it for years.

      We are exempting both our daughters but have had a negative experience with the schools. The principals are under such pressure, they seem to get very angry. Our daughters are generally level 4 students, so I can see the average is lowered if they get 0. But it’s sad such pressure is brought to bear on them over this. One of the Principals said we would have to withdraw our daughter for two weeks to avoid being forced to write the test when she returned to school. ETFO says no, we can keep her home for the 6 hours of testing and let her return with a note that she is to participate in ‘regular programming which does not include EQAO testing’. We’ll see what happens. The local newspaper are going to interview us about it, but as we’re teachers, we could get ourselves disciplined for it.

      Why don’t Ontario’s teachers refuse to do this? Especially when we can see the pressure is too much for kids, and see how the data is flawed and misused. I particularly object to how special education teachers are withdrawn from special ed duties to “coach” EQAO level 2 kids to level 3 for months before the test. Teachers just talk about these things, then let their own kids write the test. I like how much stronger teachers in other places seem to be (e.g. Seattle, Vancouver) about political things. We are so complacent and obedient!

  6. Math Teacher May 2, 2013 at 7:51 pm #

    In our district, most secondary schools count the EQAO as a portion of the course summative. After all if the government is going to spend $33 million a year on EQAO tests, they must be superior to any teacher written evaluation. (said with sarcasm as these tests are often flawed and often there are questions that do NOT follow the Ministry of Education Curriculum!!!)

  7. Michelle May 9, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Interesting. My daughter wrote Gr. 3, Gr. 6, but was excused from Gr. 9 due to dental surgery. It wasn’t really a positive experience to have her excused from the test. She had been told it counted towards part of her final mark and she was quite upset. I was unwilling to move her surgery to accommodate the test. When I wrote to the EQAO, they said that was a perfectly valid reason (surgery) but if she was being exempted for political reasons, it wouldn’t be ok.

    • SStewart May 14, 2013 at 10:22 am #

      Interesting too, Michelle. Was the EQAO response suggesting then that it would not be okay if a principal exempted your daughter for (your or hers) political reasons? I wonder how “political” reasons would be defined.
      And as I mentioned above, the portion counted towards the final mark can vary from school to school.

  8. SStewart May 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    I think it is usually expressed as a range ie “up to 30%” sounds like a range to me. In this research paper, it states that 85% of teachers used up to 10%. The lowest % is not stated.

    Click to access ResearchBulletin9_en.pdf

    But if the rationale to do this is for “motivation” then what would be the point of 1%? But if no lower limit is communicated in policy…..

    I couldn’t find any info at first look on the Parent info links regarding this, however the above paper suggests that teachers should communicate their intentions to students and parents. I am not sure who really decides at the school level… it may vary?

    How does it all fit with current provincial assessment policies via “Growing Success”, I wonder?

  9. Josee January 8, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    One of my daughters had severe anxiety towards the grade 6 EQAO testing in spring 2013. After acting out in school, talking about suicide, acting out at home, vomiting and not sleeping, I decided to keep her at home during the period of test. As an educator and a mother of 4, I think we should think about the kids wellbeing instead of the results of these tests. Parents should inform each other about how their kids are dealing with the pressure of these tests…not only in grade 3, 6 and 9 because the whole school is under pressure to make sure the students perform. When you think of it, it’s cruel…where has the fun of being a kid gone?


  1. Opting Out of EQAO: One Parent’s Story | Looking Up - March 26, 2013

    […] February 26th I published “Opting Out of EQAO“, where I shared stories from parents who chose, for a variety of reasons, to ensure that […]

  2. The Case Against EQAO | Looking Up - May 26, 2013

    […] “Opting Out Of EQAO“- February 26, 2013: “Ontario parents want to know if and how they can withdraw their children from writing the EQAO test. Some parents feel that the stress and anxiety of EQAO is too much for their child, while others disagree with the standardized testing of children.” […]

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