Opting Out of EQAO: One Parent’s Story

26 Mar

On February 26th I published “Opting Out of EQAO“, where I shared stories from parents who chose, for a variety of reasons, to ensure that their children did not write the annual EQAO tests. One of the stories contained more, so I offerred my blog to share the full story. This is the unedited story, written by Danielle Turpin, about her two children Ethan and Olivia and how and why they are opting out of EQAO testing.

As spring draws close again, and the hope of warmer weather fills us all, it is the time in the educational cycle where students, teachers, parents, administrators and elected trustees all realize that the EQAO tests are right around the corner.

Students worry that they won’t do well, teachers worry that the EQAO tests will somehow expose them as ineffective, parents worry that little Jimmy or Suzie won’t make them proud, and administrators worry that their data set will be invalid and those higher up the food chain will call them to task.  The data will be largely unused to increase the quality of education, but politicians and real estate agents will find the information indispensable.  All of this will cost the taxpayer, according to some sources, the low figure of $33 million a year.  Money well spent?  Hardly.

I had decided to pull our son from the EQAO testing back when he was in Grade 3 in __________.  He had been identified through Toronto Western, as having Tourette Syndrome, ADHD and a communications-based learning disability.  He also has executive functioning and working memory issues.  Needless to say, the Principal of his elementary school was very easy to convince.  Looking back, she was almost EAGER to have him not write the test – in her head, having him write the test would risk lowering the average in his small Grade 3 class, skewing the numbers and probably making her look bad.  Ethan hung out with Grandma and Grandpa that week, and enjoyed himself immensely.

This year, things are slightly different.

Our son is in Grade 10, and should be writing the OSSLT this spring.

Our daughter, who has exhibited no signs of Tourette Syndrome or any learning disability and is consistently getting Level 4s, is in Grade 3 and should be writing the Grade 3 EQAO test this spring.

Neither one of them will actually be writing these tests this spring.

Our Son’s OSSLT Story

Ethan has had his difficulties at school sometimes, but he had never failed a high school course, and he has found a niche.  However, his schooling has always been difficult on all of us.  We have had numerous meetings with Principals and teacher, and we often leave these feeling frustrated and patronized.  Don’t get me wrong, some of his teachers have been wonderful.  His teacher through a lot of his elementary school years was phenomenal.  He obviously cared for his students and worked very hard to support our son.  But others have not accommodated his needs, connected to him in any way, and have blamed him for the consequences of his condition.  He is told that he should be better organized, that he should remember things, and that he needs to try harder.  To tell an ADHD student with Tourette Syndrome and learning disabilities to simply “Try Harder” is akin to telling a blind student just to “See Better”.  It is impractical, unhelpful, and insulting.  After receiving a 90% in Applied Grade 9 English, he was told on numerous occasions last semester by a teacher that he would probably fail the OSSLT – however, no extra help was offered in any way.

This year, we contacted the Special Education Head, his SERT and the Principal to let them know that Ethan will be deferring his EQAO test this year, as per the EQAO website.  After waiting a few days, the Principal returned my email, and set a date to discuss this.  We understand that the EQAO is a necessity to graduate, but there is also the OSSLC which may fit his needs better.   He is a hard worker, but does not test well, and he shouldn’t be compelled to fail the OSSLT publicly before he can take the course.   Ethan has said that if he is forced to write the test, he will simply skip, or he will sit there, and write nothing.  I don’t condone the skipping, but passively resisting is certainly well within his moral and legal rights.

I will update this when more information becomes available, but it will be interesting to see.

Our daughter’s Grade 3 EQAO Story

Olivia has never shown any sign of Ethan’s neurological issues.  She performs well in school, and is a quiet, self-motivated student.  Currently in the French Immersion program at her school, by all accounts, she is a dream student.  Typically, her lowest mark on any given report card would be a B, or a B+.  If she were to take her EQAO test, she would pass with flying colours.  She will still not write this test.

Initially, we had planned to pull Olivia from the EQAO and have her go stay with Grandma and Grandpa, as Ethan had done in years past.  But we had a quiet sense of unease about it.  If we disagree with this testing, and if it is wasteful and wrong, why should we be the ones that pull our child?  What lesson is actually being learned by NOT protesting, and simply running away?   The decision was also made clearer, when we learned that the school would not be telling us the actual test date.  In order to avoid students leaving on the day of the EQAO, they would inform parents of the two week period during which the test would be given.  To avoid the test, Olivia would then be forced to miss a full two weeks of education, and if she returned at any point during this ‘testing window’ they would make her write the test.

So, we contacted her Principal and her Teacher with the request that Olivia not write the EQAO test nor take part in the ‘pre-test’ activities  – our official request.

To our surprise, the Principal actually called our home quickly thereafter.  I explained that I did not want Olivia to write the test, and I didn’t want to pull her out for the two week period of the entire testing time frame.  The Principal asked if Olivia had any anxiety issues that would allow for an exemption from the test, which she does not.   She said that she would review the situation, and contact us again soon.  I thanked her for the quick response, and it was a friendly exchange, all told.

She responded very quickly after reviewing some EQAO material from the official webpage.  We were told that there were no pre-test activities and that the EQAO is a curriculum-based test without ANY classroom pre-teaching to the test – the official story, of course, which most people realize, is abjectly not the case.  She “cut and pasted” some information from the web, that essentially said that ALL grade 3 students are expected to participate.

We responded by thanking her for looking into this, and that we understand that the Board and Government of Ontario would like all students to write these tests, but unfortunately we are still in the same position.  Olivia will not be writing this test, nor will she be missing two weeks of school.

Then we asked what would happen if Olivia simply showed up during the Grade 3 Testing, and simply didn’t write anything.  Could they provide her with alternate learning materials, or should we?  Would she be made to write?  Would there be any punitive results from not writing?

The response we received was surprising.  The Principal explained that nothing would happen at all to Olivia, and that the only result would be a zero on this test, which doesn’t count towards anything anyways.  She can sit at her desk and not even open the booklet unless she gets a little curious.  She could read quietly, or doodle, or work on other materials.  There would be nothing punitive in any way.

We responded by thanking her again for her time, and telling her a small story about a positive experience that Olivia had with her English teacher recently, and the issue ended on a very pleasant note.

Final Thoughts

As the testing will not take place for a while, we obviously are unsure as to how this will all pan out in the future.   However, both our son and daughter are excited about the possibility of this minor rebellious act, and we are confident in that we have expressed our dissatisfaction with the current standardized testing paradigm, and not had to sacrifice our moral standards to do it.

Are we doing the right thing in our actions?  I am not completely certain, but I am certain that if we were to acquiesce then we would have been guilty of perpetuating these wasteful, purposeless tests.  At this point, the only way that these tests can be removed will be when the data that they provide will serve no useful function to the politicians, school boards, and commercial interests.  The only way that this can happen is if more and more parents chose to support their children in NOT writing these flawed evaluations.  Personally, I would love to see the day when an entire class of Grade 3s, Grade 6s, Grade 9s or Grade 10s simply refuse to write the test.

22 Responses to “Opting Out of EQAO: One Parent’s Story”

  1. Paul Hamel March 26, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    A wonderful story. I don’t teach grade 3 or 6 or 9… But if I did, and a parent of a student in my class came to me, I would be so glad! Please continue to share your story.

    • Danielle March 27, 2013 at 9:29 am #

      Thank you, and we will keep everyone posted when it is all said and done.

  2. lisamnoble March 29, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    thanks so much, Danielle for sharing, and Andrew for providing the forum. I love the idea of both your kids getting to express their resistance. I am the parent of two gifted children who have been blessed, in Grade 3, with a teacher who very clearly let them know that the test had no bearing on their marks, and the class in fact called it “evil questions attack Ontario”. Neither displayed any anxiety whatsoever, and so, they wrote. Neither has ever asked us how they did – it simply has no bearing on them.

    I nodded as I read your experience with the principal who was happy to see Ethan pulled from the testing, because it would lower the score overall. I think, unfortunately, that this is a common response….

    As May approaches again, and my older child is in Grade 6, we are once again faced with whether or not to have this conversation. As with you, the test will be taken over a week to two-week long period. Thanks for the food for thought.

    • Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99) March 29, 2013 at 2:02 pm #

      The board I teach in requires grade 3 & 6 teachers to make sure that all students complete a mock EQAO test in preparation for the actual test. It is on the list of professional responsibilities. The message is clear. The scores matter and this isn’t a ‘snapshot’, it’s something we need to prepare kids to do, and that message filters down to teachers, students and parents.

  3. lisamnoble March 29, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    I can’t imagine that actually being on the list of requirements – ugh. However, the Grade 6 boy sitting on the couch has just informed me that last year (in a 5/6 split) they did A LOT of “practice tests” for the 6’s in their class. …and that they’re starting it again in his current class. (sigh). Guess I should ask questions more often.

    • ballacheybears March 29, 2013 at 3:00 pm #

      They also offer after school classes for students to help prep them for EQAO and boost their test scores, paid for by the board 🙂

  4. Lisa Donohue April 30, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    It’s interesting to see different perspectives and different approaches to exempting kids from EQAO. While I am not arguing for or against the voluntary withdrawal of students, I do feel it necessary to address one misconseption. Students who are exempt are indeed scored as a zero… but they are not removed from the data set They essentially score 0/1 for every task. They still count in the final numbers.
    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    • Danielle May 27, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

      Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for your response. I am wondering if your can point me in the direction of where you are getting your information from regarding the scores. You are very right as to people being very confused. On many levels actually. What an exemption is, what the data is used for and how it is interpreted. I was given my information by a superintendent during a SEAC meeting when we went over the EQAO results for our board and it was different than what you are saying. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had the same, clear, standard information for these standardized tests? lol

      • Samantha May 27, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

        I have administered the Grade 3 EQAO many times, and reviewed the data the next year. Lisa is correct – students who do not write are counted as zeros in the scores. You are also correct in your discovery that not everyone is aware of this,

  5. Maz Stabel May 27, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    Hi and thank you for your story. Last year my children went to an alternative school that was more than happy to provide educational material for students not participating in the tests. This year we have moved to a very rural area and my children now attend a mainstream public school. When i inquired about exemptions to testing i was looked at like there was something very wrong with me. “Absolutely not” was the reply from the principal. “My hands are tied, all students MUST write the tests. If they are attending school they are expected to write, your only option is to pull her from classes for the full 2 weeks”, he said.
    I like the idea of sending her with instructions to not write it at all but i fear she will suffer the consequences if we chose to do so. EQAOs start tomorrow.
    I am very annoyed that testing only happens in the morning yet my daughter is expected to miss 2 full weeks of afternoon schooling. I asked if she could attend in the PM only and was informed that no, as soon as she steps foot in the school she will be seperated from her peers and expected to write the tests. My daughter was very upset when she heard this. SHe loves school and enjoys it very much, in fact, we would rather homeschool but our children were adament about attending “normal” school so we allowed them to make that decision for themselves.
    Does anyone have any advice? WOuld it be better to just pull her for two weeks or should she be sent with the expectations that she not even tough the pencil provided? IS there a possibilty of suspension over not writing the tests? How can i protect her? DOes her rigt to an education not trump the province’s right to force useless testing on grade 3 students?

    • Maz Stabel May 27, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

      I want to add that we have four children who are spaced apart perfectly in a way that ensures that we have a child writing EQAO’s every single year until the youngest has completed her grade 9 testing. She is now only 4 years old so we have many many many years of fighting these regulations in our future!

    • Danielle May 27, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

      Hi there,
      Thank you for reading my story.
      I am not sure really what to tell you except really to go with your gut. I am sure you already realize that the ‘ALL children must write the test” rule is more of a suggestion. My story is a perfect example. It is out in the open, no one was being bullied to write or not to write. So going with my experience, I don’t think anything punitive would happen to your daughter if she didn’t put pen to paper. That being said, this all depends on her, and how she would handle this. In a way you are now asking her to take this fight on for herself. Something I don’t think many parents are comfortable doing. I think some kids have a very strong sense of self from a very young age and are confident enough to go against the grain a bit, especially if they have the support from home. So if you feel very strongly that EQAO is not right for your daughter/family and you have taken the steps to see if you can “opt” out, to no avail, and you feel that your daughter can handle the consequences,(find out from the school what they will be) then I feel it is important to follow through with it and have her not write the test. What I would do today is to very clearly ask, what would happen if she just didn’t write it? Try to get it in writing (email maybe?) All I can say to anyone who feels passionately about anything is to not give up. if it doesn’t work this time, we can learn from it, and try it again next time. Good luck!

    • Kendra May 27, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

      Tell her to open the package, leave her pencil on the desk, wait 5 or 10 mins, put her hand up and say “I’m done”. The teacher is not allowed to prompt her to write anything (go to the “educator resources” on the eqao.com website)

  6. Rachel May 27, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    Thanks for posting . My son with no special needs has been stressed during the past two week prep to the point his teacher is concerned he’s going to crack . He’s having anxiety and wanting to throw up and tne thought of this testing . It starts wed!!! I don’t want to put him through this . It’s breaking my heart – I booked off work wed in case they call saying he’s freaking out . This is bs!!!! And I work as an ea for the school board 😦

  7. Kendra May 27, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    My son (gr 3) went in to EQAO, opened the package, wrote “I don’t think so. Homey don’t play that” on the front of the booklet and put his hand up and said “I’m done”. Then read his library book. I’m so proud of that boy!!

  8. SStewart May 28, 2013 at 4:27 pm #

    Hi everyone chatting here 🙂
    It seems the heat may have risen in Ont. over these tests. Because of opt-out trends in the US?

    As some of you know, my two children did not write the Gr. 3 and 6 tests. That was a number of years ago for us though. There have been no negative outcomes on either of them…not at the time or since. We felt supported in the decision more with each year that we “opted out”. We were able to keep them at home for the 3-5 days or half days, but we were also extended options/flexibility to have them attend during the testing and do work in other classes, if needed. We did a combination some years. No questions were asked – few classmates even noticed. Easier if just one or two students are doing this (quietly), I recognize. I suspect some “rules” or messaging has changed since our time. Why? Hmmm.

    The “letter” I submitted to cover us was short and to the point,

    Dear (Principal)

    (name of my child) will not be participating in the Grade (3/6) EQAO assessments. She will be absent from school during the scheduled hours of the testing this week.

    Thank you for respecting our decision. We apologize for any negative impact that our decision may have on (name of child) classmates or school.

    (the parents) 🙂

    Keep sharing the stories and outcomes!

  9. ralph wiebe May 28, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    we gave our son the choice to write or not in both 3 + 6. in grade 3 he chose to not. he was pressured by the teachers and principal prior to, during and after the test. we were pressured at home as well. in grade 6 we also gave him the choice. this time we were told if he showed up at school he would have to write whether he wanted to or not. effectively he would be suspended for 3 weeks if he did not want to write. odd
    ly enough a child was caught smoking marijuana on school property the week before eqao began and received a 4 day suspension. my son wrote the grade 6 because he did not want to miss his friends for 3 weeks

    • Danielle May 29, 2013 at 8:03 am #

      I find this all horribly sad. Suspended for three weeks?. Does any kid get suspended for not writing an assessment? I have heard many peoples stories about EQAO, and I really do consider ourselves lucky. We didn’t go through any of the bully tactics that many people have through, we heard the some of the same lines, but when push came to shove EQAO for my daughter was just going to be another school day. Any choices we make or our children make should be through knowledge, not through bullying and threats. I am sorry that your family had to go through that. It really does make you feel differently about the school system when the only hand left they can play is threats doesn’t it?

  10. Dave September 5, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

    Just a comment regarding exemptions from EQAO tests: students get zero automatically if exempted, so the first lad being discussed getting exempted is in no way a “benefit” to his school. The ministry does not take “average” results, which means that 2.9 on the test is as good as zero. You either get three, or nothing!

    I have taught grade six for over a decade now, and please don’t let anyone tell you that these test results are meaningless to schools. Schools that have poor results face a lot of passive, or aggressive, pressure to “fix things”. It is funny that because tests for schools are usually based on a low number of kids (20) the randomness of low sample testing came really come to bite you! One year I am a hero with 100% level 3/4, and the next, a loser, with 60%! It’s absolutely psychotic, and to make matters worse, the data is usually used by professionals that have little to no understanding of statistic research methodology!

    Congrats for rebelling against it!

  11. Natty September 25, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    Having three children spaced out, I have had the “pleasure” of dealing with the schools prior to the government taking control and after. I can, without a doubt, state that things were way better before. There will be a day, once these kids grow up, that we will look back and wonder over why we did what we did. EQAO is only around because the bosses, aka government, need affirmation that they made the right decision.

    Anyways, back to the topic at hand. I have never had the balls to pull my kids out of EQAO. I would hate to imagine the consequences, considering that a lot of kids have already been bullied by teachers and principals for things less offensive than that. My only way around it was to, quite simply, tell the kids not to worry about it. I have taught them that the EQAO has no effect on their report and has everything to do with statistics and management. I play it right down. Depending on their age and depending on what the teacher have said to pressure them, I tell them that it’s a fake test or that it’s a test to test the teachers. As long as the testing doesn’t affect their mental state, we don’t worry about it.

    Personally, I’m not bothered to find out how my child did in a particular class or how the school rated in comparison to other schools. As a parent, I would rather see the teachers being monitored for their soft skills. Prior to the governments control, there were a larger percentage of teachers that actually cared about their job and cared about the future of the kids. We had teachers that would go above and beyond to find some unconventional way to get your child to understand.

    How does EQAO differ from any other testing? I would think that reviewing the marks on their report cards, one would see patterns indicating poorly taught kids? Wouldn’t this be easier, less stressful and not to mention, less expensive?

    • Jason January 26, 2014 at 1:05 am #

      Hmm Natty you are very very misinformed. You sound like you just dislike your kids’ teachers and have for many years. I believe you have a very biased opinion. Unfortunate for you, for the teachers that you believe bullied your kids. What did they do, tell your child to “do their work” hmm that doesn’t sound like bullying to me, did you want the teacher to baby your kids like you do at home so they get everything they want for nothing, but to my point.

      These tests do not test the teachers, it is simply money spent each year, to have kids take tests and an entire school based one test for the 2 grades to develop their school improvement plan. It is a vicious cycle. One year it is reading or retelling, the next it is Writing skills, then 3 years later the school improvement plan is right back to reading comp skills or something to do with reading. Complete waste of time and 100% waste of money.

      I love how everything wrong with the kids are the teachers’ fault. Their “soft skills” they don’t care about the kids’ future. You are mad! You had one teacher that told you how it is and you didn’t like it.

      I care about all 450 kids I have taught over my 15 years of teaching and all the kids I coached and all the kids I see on yard duty, and all the kids I see in the halls. I am not an odd bread of teacher, I am the norm. I believe every teacher, believes they can help a child get the best out of the year they have them and if that one kid seems to have not excelled how they thought, I guarantee that teacher doesn’t sit there and say “Oh well” they think about this for a long time. I guarantee that every teacher tries over and over through the year to help that one kid that seems to not get anywhere, but they keep trying to get that ahah moment but sometimes it doesn’t happen.

      But Natty, I do however agree with one thing you said. Get rid of the test so teachers can simply teach what is needed. ALl the boards preach differentiated learning so every single kid has a plan to be successful. The EQAO has no differentiated learning whatsoever. It simply shows you the weak from the strong…the lower class from the upper class, the NOn ESL kids to the ESL kids.

      I do agree get rid of the test and go by the report card that usually entails most of the general expectations your child learned and how they did. Why use anything else. However, to say that a child failed, and its because they were poorly taught is incredibly, honestly stupid!!! Sorry but sometimes when something is that misinformed and that “stupid” it needs to be said.


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

    […] “Opting Out Of EQAO: One Parent’s Story“- March 26, 2013: “The data will be largely unused to increase the quality of education, but politicians and real estate agents will find the information indispensable.  All of this will cost the taxpayer, according to some sources, the low figure of $33 million a year.  Money well spent?  Hardly.” […]

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