Here we are: another set of EQAO scores are out there. What is the point?
The purposes of testing may be any of the following reasons
1) accountability, 2) feedback, 3) classification and/or certification of students and 4) reform. Many teachers believe that it is a lot of money if it is, indeed, just number one!
The problem with accountability is that the test does not make parents, superintendents, trustees or Ministry officials accountable for the test scores and our form of testing does not purport to determine who is responsible for these scores. It does not predict the impact of the type of instruction, for which teachers are either blamed or lauded. It does not match the goals many parents have for their children: to become happy, productive, contributing members of society, thinking, sentient human beings who treat one another with dignity and respect.
This leads us to the reason for testing, number two: feedback. Our Ministry of Education has created all sorts of hoops that teachers must jump through to support the low achiever and to provide information to parents. We have three reporting periods per year, most schools conduct Student-Led conferencing session. Students show parents their work and parents have an opportunity to come into a classroom and give their child some support. The parents who choose to come in are not usually the ones we need to see! We give parents ample opportunities to talk to us, yet some do not and some do not need to.
Testing does not diagnose any of the reasons for which s student may be failing: psycho-social, cognitive, emotional or physical reasons for their inability to achieve.
As teacher face more and more children with increasingly severe disabilities we are facing more and more cutbacks. Special Education, ESL programs, Professional Development opportunities, including in-service during the school day, and less access to the human and physical resources; these are the programs that help a teacher make a difference and provide quality programming to all students.
Not does the test give remedies for the above needs assessments that teachers make on a daily basis. The test is not necessarily valid, in that it cannot judge how well a student can do higher level thinking if they have been in the country, and speaking English, for only a few months. In my classroom in September I had three brilliant children who had been in the country for less than a month. They present me with incredibly difficult challenges to present authentic learning opportunities and how to bridge that gap between reading, writing and thinking, even as we face a wide range of student needs and abilities.
Regarding classification and certification, We have Individual Educational Plans (IEPs), created and prepared after much consultation with parents. They are called in and are asked to help contribute to such plans, after an Independent Placement and Review Committee hearing (IPRC). These meetings are not surprises. It is usually only after extensive preparation that students are identified and participate in a differentiated program. At this point parents and teachers are working together and understand much of what the school and the students are attempting to do in schools. It is not parents who are demanding testing, most parents indicate that they are pleased with what schools are achieving. It is business and taxpayers who haven't darkened a door of our school systems in years.
If it is reform that stakeholders want, then testing does not facilitate this ideal strategy. Reform only comes through discourse, dialogue, proper teacher training and experienced and highly trained professionals. We have had an administration turnover of 60 % in Ontario schools in the past five years. Most principals are not the curriculum leaders that teachers require. Many are simply learning how to do the job. They are the managers who juggle staff, resources, paper and time and money.
Principals make reports to Boards regarding their strategies for improving test scores. It is school staffs who must come up with improvement plans following the results of EQAO testing. We are limited in these attempts. Limited by funding and time and energy and expertise. Many of us don't have the ability to determine why it is that some of our students have difficulty reading. Many of us in education don't believe that the EQAO office can provide reliable enough reporting results to be able to deliver achievable increases in student achievement. There are too many variables.
We have greatly improved our understanding of testing as a science. We understand validity, reliability. It is my hope that changing technology will change and influence how classroom testing is accomplished. Those in the work force are not limited to what they can remember or find in their offices. Students are not limited to, in fact should be encouraged to identify, evaluate and apply learning skills and strategies which help them seek out new information and ideas, and use it critically to influence their thinking. These are not skills that can be assessed by EQAO testing, some students score well below their capabilities due to boredom, inattention, illness or misunderstanding of testing procedures.
We have not made any improvements to the means by which we deliver programs, which improve parenting skills. Many non-profit groups that support juveniles are facing cut backs in funding. Parents are our children's first teachers. We know that some parents who have little education see little value in supporting the school. They may, in fact, fear it, These are the parents who may have little faith in teachers or who do not understand how to provide academic support at home. Many of our students become behaviour problems and they take away from the kind of education system that we all want for our students. Testing and holding teachers accountable will not improve this cause of underachievement.
For these reasons I believe we must change our strategies on testing. We must assess our students needs, learning styles, learning skills and create an educational system which reflect learning in the Information Age. $50 million would go a long way towards this goal. We need to draw competent, high achieving educational professionals with salaries to keep them teaching.
B.A., B.Ed., M.Ed. (OISE)
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