Tag Archives: testing

The Case Against EQAO

26 May

“They asked if I wanted to hold the “O”. My response was ‘Dude!! YOLO!!'”

This week thousands of grade 3 and 6 students in Ontario will write the annual EQAO tests. Many educators, parents and students understand this to be a “bad thing”. Unfortunately, like the weather, everybody talks about it but no body actually does anything about it.

Part of the reason I blog is to stand up for what I think is right, and I’ve done this repeatedly with respect to EQAO testing (insert picture of me selling a dead horse here). Because, after all, if a parent-educator with a blog can’t change the world with a few posts, then what’s the point? 🙂

Here, gathered together, are my EQAO related posts:

  • “Let’s Scrap EQAO”– March 23rd, 2012: “Texas educators have seen where emphasizing  testing takes us and the feedback isn’t positive. Let’s learn from them. Let’s get ahead of the curve and scrap EQAO now.”
  • “The Power of Ontario’s Provincial Testing Program”: My Initial Response– April 17, 2012: “Sixteen pictures of happy smiling children are scattered throughout the report. We have kids looking at globes, writing on blackboards, sharing jokes with teachers, etc. Only two of the pictures show kids that might be writing EQAO. Even the art director knew that writing tests isn’t fun.”
  • Why Standardized Testing Will Never Work“- November 7, 2012: “Standardized testing will never accurately assess learning because learning doesn’t work that way. Some things I teach my students this year won’t ‘click’ until later, when they are ready for them or when their minds open to them. Learning’s a complex and complicated process and can’t be accurately reduced to numbers. At some point we have to trust the learners. As my grandmother Hannah Green often reminded me, “a watched pot never boils, love”.”
  • 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.”
  • 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.”
  • Surefire Ways To Improve Your School’s EQAO Scores“- April 30, 2013: “Educators trying to improve EQAO scores might need assistance. Being a helpful sort I scoured the profiles of the top 15 EQAO schools to discover their Score Boosting Secrets!!!
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Surefire Ways To Improve Your School’s EQAO Scores

30 Apr

EQAO is coming. Hurray!!!

Late April and early May is a festive time in Ontario’s elementary schools. The whiff of EQAO is in the air (did you get your EQAO tree yet?).

At our recent PD day we had teachers attend workshops to learn how best to administer the test and prepare their students. The rest of us circled the test days in our calendar and were asked to be aware of the serious business afoot. Soon grade 3 & 6 teachers will be stripping classroom walls of student created anchor charts, so that students don’t cheat by looking something up.

Despite the message that no special preparation is needed for EQAO, boards require teachers to administer practice tests and offer after-school ‘booster’ clubs to help students improve their EQAO scores. The official position is that the tests aren’t evaluative, but practice suggests otherwise.

Educators trying to improve EQAO scores might need assistance. Being a helpful sort I scoured the profiles of the top 15 EQAO schools to discover their Score Boosting Secrets!!!

Before sharing, two disclaimers:

  • EQAO doesn’t publish school rankings. They oppose it and claim it is harmful, but still make test data publicly available so that others can rank schools. These are also the tactics of The National Rifle Association, cigarette companies and fast food restaurants. Like EQAO they claim that the harmful effects of their products aren’t their fault, but caused by how people use them. Luckily, the folks at The Fraser Institute produce annual school rankings based on EQAO scores, and it’s their data I used for this analysis.
  • This is not, in any way, a scientific analysis. I am using grade 5 math skills and a little time, not deep data mining. Someone else is welcome to do that.

Here are the surefire ways to improve your school’s EQAO scores from the top 15 EQAO schools:

  • Move To Toronto: Hogtown is home to 60% (9/15) of the top 15 EQAO schools but only 20% of Ontario’s schools. That’s a huge over-achievement. The only non-GTA communities in the top 15 are St Catherines, Sudbury, Guelph and Arnprior. It might be the CN Tower, the excellent public transit, or the fine work of Mayor Rob Ford, but learning in Toronto certainly elevates EQAO scores.
  • Privatize: Independent schools serve just 6% of Ontario students but 20% of the top 15 EQAO schools (3/15) are independent, fee charging schools. Privatizing your school not only improves EQAO scores, but more money means no more teacher griping about having to bring supplies from home. Win-win.
  • Get Rich Quick: Schools teaching students from higher income families score higher on EQAO. The average annual family income of the top 15 EQAO schools is $112, 908.33, almost double the average annual family income in Ontario ($65,500 in 2010). Schools can attract students from high income families with simple strategies such as school uniforms (think grey blazers), a gluten free snack program or changing the school name to something with “Academy” in it. Planting ivy in the front garden won’t hurt.
  • No Specials: Getting rid of special education students boosts EQAO scores. The top 15 EQAO schools average 11.12% special education students, while the provincial average is 19%, almost double. Apply some of the new income from privatization to paying special education students to transfer to neighbouring schools. This will lower your competitors scores, making you look even better.
  • Speak English: The top 15 EQAO schools have only 3% of students that are English Language Learners, less than half of the provincial average of 7%. Surprising given the large number of top 15 schools in the GTA, where the ELL population is reported to be well above the provincial average. Remember this when relocating to Toronto. Location, location, location.

Summary: To transform your school’s EQAO scores become a private school, located in Toronto, with mostly native English speaking students from high income families. Deny admission to special education students.

Related Findings:

  • Faith based instruction doesn’t affect EQAO scores. A third of Ontario schools are faith based and the same proportion are represented in the top 15 EQAO schools.
  • The next 15 schools in the rankings show an even greater GTA bias (13/15). Could it be the sweet waters of Lake Ontario? Further research required.
  • The bottom 15 schools in the Fraser Institute rankings show the following:
    • None are from Toronto and none are private schools
    • About half (7/15) are in First Nations, fly-in communities in Northern Ontario.
    • The seven First Nations schools don’t report family income, but the remaining eight schools in the bottom 15 have an average annual family income of $41,775, almost half the average Ontario annual family income.

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.

Why Standardized Testing Will Never Work

7 Nov

This is an image of Belgian artist RenĂ© Magritte‘s famous painting “The Treachery of Images“, painted in 1928-29 when Magritte was 30 years old. I’m sure it would take several art history courses to discuss what it means so I won’t try, but I will share my opinion.

Magritte is quoted as saying “…it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe,” I’d have been lying!”. Magritte is discussing the nature of representations. He’s saying that no matter how good a representation is, it can never be the thing that it represents. There is always something lost.

No matter how good a painting of a pipe is, it isn’t a pipe. You can’t stuff and smoke it. A musical recording isn’t the same as hearing a musician live. A sporting event watched on TV is not the same as seeing the game live. You can make the argument that they are, in some ways, better (“a painting of a pipe doesn’t stink up my house!”) but no one would ever say they are the same.

So it is with learning and testing. Learning is a live construction of understanding that teachers have a chance to facilitate and observe. We provide opportunities and support and hope it happens. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. We give feedback and try to do what we can to improve on it, build on it, take it further. And we share our observations with the learners and with others because that improves the learning.

At some point (I’m not sure when), and for reasons I’m unclear, some people decided they did not trust teachers. When teachers said learning was happening these others said “Prove it!”. The results of trying to prove learning to those outside the process is standardized testing.

What the users and proponents and advocates of standardized testing fail to grasp is that test scores only represent learning, they cannot “be” learning. A student may score well on a test but that information may be lost the next day because it was not “learned”.

I “learned” all the molecular variations of the Krebs Cycle and could regurgitate them and get a high grade in Organic Chemistry, but that information was gone from my brain within a few days. I can still, however, vividly remember details from CS Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” as read to me by Mrs. Dickinson in class 6 at St Stephen’s CE School in Burnley, Lancs. I can remember where I was sitting in the room, the quality of the light and the sound of her voice. I can remember the images I created in my head of the mighty Aslan. This “deep learning” took years to build as I revisited it and built connection after connection to it.

Standardized testing will never accurately assess learning because learning doesn’t work that way. Some things I teach my students this year won’t ‘click’ until later, when they are ready for them or when their minds open to them. Learning’s a complex and complicated process and can’t be accurately reduced to numbers. At some point we have to trust the learners. As my grandmother Hannah Green often reminded me, “a watched pot never boils, love”.

The numbers can act as a loose guide to help with instruction. They can shine a light on certain areas and illuminate some parts and make them easier to see. They can hint at areas of weakness and help to guide instruction in the hands of a skilled teacher. But they are useless to someone sitting in an office, away from the messy learning, someone who is trying to figure out whether learning is occurring.

No matter how much they want it to be, this is not a pipe.