Towards the end of each year, thousands of children in Ontario participate in an activity that has absolutely no benefit to their education. No it’s not Crazy Hair Day (Crazy Hair Day is awesome.)
With a name like Education Quality and Accountability Office testing, how can I possibly say that this is pointless and even harmful? Who doesn’t want quality and accountability in education? Won’t somebody please think of the children? Of course, these are good things—but EQAO testing doesn’t achieve them.
If, like me, you think EQAO is a giant waste of time and resources, chances are you are a teacher or speak with one on a regular basis. I come from a long line of teachers. My family is filled with teachers. A large percentage of my friends are teachers. A big chunk of the moms in my 5,000+ member Facebook group are teachers. You see where I’m going with this. Precisely none of them think EQAO testing is worthwhile. In fact, the very mention of it sets them off. Want to hear a teacher rant? Just say EQAO. Play-based learning, common core math, homework—there is no subject that has ever had universal consensus amongst teachers, except for the pointlessness and frustration of EQAO testing.
But why? What do teachers know that we don’t? On the surface, it seems like a great tool. We can gauge how our kids are doing, how the school and teachers measure up. It’s all objective, and objective means fair, doesn’t it?
In the case of EQAO, it is that objectivity that makes it so fundamentally flawed. Students are tested against universal criteria, but students are not one size fits all. We have all heard that old adage that if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid. Universal EQAO testing simply means that the trees given to the menagerie of students are all the same height.
Several teachers voiced their frustrations that students who have Individual Education Plans in place, stating they are to be taught at and marked according to a grade one level, are being held to a grade six standard with the rest of their age cohort. The same is true of children who do not speak English. A child who is brand new to Canada is required to take the same test. The help offered to these students during the test is minimal or non-existent.
The scores of children with IEPs, children who are in the ESL program, and other children who would not normally be asked to take a test identical to that of children without special education requirements are weighted equally in the overall test results. What this means is that if you have a fantastic school with a fantastic special education program, they will almost certainly score lower than a school with a higher percentage of mainstream students, despite the quality of the school and the teachers within it. Students who do not take the test, for reasons ranging from a parent opting out, to illness, to test anxiety, are counted as zeros in the school and teacher averages.
If you are a fantastic teacher who happens to have five children with IEPs, seven children who are ESL students, two who were sick on the test and make up days, and one whose parents decided the test wasn’t worth the stress it put on their child, you will score low on the test results. Many experienced teachers score highly one year, and poorly the very next year. The likelihood that they suddenly became bad teachers seems low.
Beyond the inaccuracy of the test results, and the stress it places on students, it is a staggering waste of resources. It isn’t just the millions of dollars spent each year—money that could greatly benefit a struggling school budget—but the waste of class time and resources. The test forces teachers to not only teach with the test in mind, giving them less flexibility to tailor their lessons to their individual class needs but also to finish 10 months worth of curriculum in nine months. During testing, students lose even more instruction time and, in some cases, access to areas of the school altogether. In the name of education quality, we are wasting millions of dollars, and a month’s worth of instruction time, to get results that don’t mean anything useful anyway. Good job, Ontario.
So what is the alternative? How do we know how our kids are doing, and measure the quality of their education? To find the answer to this, I did what the Ontario Government should have done a long time ago. I asked the teachers.
Unsurprisingly, they had very practical, cost effective solutions. First and foremost, talk to your child’s teachers and school administration. Allow for honest reporting, and open communication. Voice your concerns, and give teachers the freedom to voice theirs as well.
Have real world accountability for teachers who are not pulling their weight. Teachers receive in-house evaluations, they observe each other and are monitored by administration. This gives a far more accurate view of a teacher than arbitrary test percentages.
Allow teachers to do their jobs. They love their students, they want to see them succeed. They have their finger on the pulse of education, and they know what they are doing. We need to stop wasting their time and increasing their already over-burdened stress loads with roadblocks in the name of bettering education.
If you want better education for your children, start with a quality work environment for the teachers. Let them be heard. Listen to the people who are spending day in and day out with these kids. I promise you, they will not steer you wrong.