Ontario teachers call for testing moratorium

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August 17, 2010 by realrenewal

Halt standardized tests, elementary teachers say; Exams for grades 3, 6 are costly, take away from non-test subjects  by Matthew Pearson / The Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 17, 2010 Page A/1

Ontario’s public elementary school teachers have called for a two-year moratorium on standardized tests in Grade 3 and Grade 6, saying the annual exams are expensive, detract from other subjects and give parents the wrong idea about what makes a good school.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which represents 76,000 teachers and education workers, asked Monday for the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) tests to be halted to allow for public consultation on the uses, value and impact of the current testing regime.

“Something is very wrong when areas including science, history, social studies and the arts are getting sidelined in the race to get young students prepared for EQAO, which is focused solely on literacy and math,” said Sam Hammond, ETFO’s president.

He added the province spends more than $100 million on the testing and what he called “the Literacy and Numeracy education bureaucracy.”

The teachers union hired Environics Research Group to conduct eight focus groups — including two in Ottawa — with ETFO members back in June. A total of 64 teachers with at least five years’ experience, all of whom were paid an incentive for participating, were asked to discuss the pros and cons of the tests, which have been in place since 1996.

The results, which Hammond unveiled to delegates at the union’s annual meeting in Toronto, suggest parents and the public may believe EQAO scores are an indicator of a good school, but teachers do not.

Teachers say the standardized tests have created opportunities for professional development, fostered more collaboration among teachers and helped some plan lessons.

But those benefits could have been achieved through cheaper means and some teachers add EQAO is of limited or no use for informing parents about their child’s progress in school, or assessing the quality of the education system as a whole.

The report suggests the goal of making all children capable of performing to a specific level in EQAO is at odds with the Ministry of Education’s goal that learning should be geared toward a child’s specific needs.

Teachers say EQAO testing means non-test subjects such as arts, drama, music and even science get less attention than the subject areas of the tests, which focus on literacy and numeracy skills.

Teachers also say the pressure on students, particularly those in Grade 3, is too much.

“They are starting to think of school as a series of hoops to jump through,” one participant was quoted as saying.

The standardized tests also have “huge drawbacks” to special-needs and English-as-a-second-language students, as well as those from different cultural backgrounds, students with behavioural issues or learning disabilities, and highly gifted students.

And despite the tests being “standardized,” the report claims EQAO tests are not uniformly administered, putting test results, comparability and tracking over time into question.

According to the teachers, schools administer tests differently, and the standards of marking have changed over time, as have the difficulty of the tests.

Finally, there is the cost — in both class time to prepare and resources spent to administer the EQAO tests.

“School boards are always cutting back and saying ‘we can’t afford this’ — things that I would say are essential, like educational assistants and more personnel, yet they’re willing to put tons of money into EQAO,” says another participant.

The study says most teachers think the testing should be eliminated. Otherwise, they recommend the government reduce the scale of the test to reduce pressure on students and teachers, consider random sampling, and take steps to reduce the importance of EQAO testing in the eyes of the public as the best or only way of evaluating a school.

Phil Serruya, the communications manager for EQAO, said the testing costs $17 per student annually and provides good value for money.

“It provides information at key points in each student’s education about how they’re developing these fundamental literacy and numeracy skills,” he said.

While a rich curriculum is important — including subjects not covered by the test — students must master literacy and numeracy.

“They are the foundation for success in all other subjects and for life outside of school,” he said.

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