Testing rooted in learning

You know your kids are thriving when they rush home to tell you about what they learned that day. So why doesn’t our testing system work like that too?

Assessments created by teachers and early childhood educators look at all of the ways in which kids improve every day, and measure their progress in an ongoing way is better at preparing them for junior high and beyond.

It is time to move beyond the test-driven focus of EQAO assessments. And to redefine what success means for our kids between grades 3 and 6. The narrow focus on literacy and math skills has led to system fatigue and neglects the importance of well-rounded classroom learning. In these classrooms, is where our kids are learning important life skills— like knowing how to work together and speak up — and will make the difference.

Today's A is tomorrow’s college admission. Then, the world.

Educators — from classroom teachers to superintendents — are stressed. And so are students and it’s not only staff who are calling for fundamental changes. Experts know that a new vision is needed, one that is not focused on standardized test results. Their vision is based on creating supportive and collaborative school cultures where educators have greater professional autonomy regarding their classroom practice, curriculum, and assessment strategies.

There are alternatives to Ontario’s testing regime. Finland, a top-performing nation on international assessments, uses random sample tests to occasionally check if its curriculum and teaching approaches are appropriate. The international tests conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are random sample tests. Ontario should, and would benefit from, adopting the same approach.

In the end, the most effective assessment of student progress is the assessment that teachers do every day in the classroom. Teachers strive to balance their instruction with assessment that provides students with immediate feedback about their own progress and helps them to work more productively on their own and with other students. Teachers use ongoing assessment to reflect on their teaching, improve their teaching strategies, and respond to individual student needs.

If the government is truly interested in improving the levels of student success, it should put its focus on supporting teachers’ skills in ongoing classroom assessment rather than ineffective EQAO tests.

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  • Adopt a random-sample model to measure whether the curriculum and the way our teachers are leading classes is working.
  • Place more emphasis on ongoing teacher assessment to measure our kids’ progress.
  • Ensure all elementary classrooms have a range of resources to facilitate all types of learning: hands-on, experiential, reading-oriented, and more.
  • Revise the elementary curriculum by reducing the number of student outcomes kids need to achieve and instead, establish a set of core learning goals that each kid needs to succeed.


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Hargreaves, Andy and Shirley, Dennis. (2009) The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change. Corwin. Thousand Oaks, CA.

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OECD (2012), Lessons from PISA for Japan, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264118539-en

Ontario Ministry of Education. (March, 2009) Planning and Possibilities: The Report of the Declining Enrolment Working Group. Toronto.

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People for Education. (2012) Annual Report on Ontario’s Schools 2011. Toronto.

Queen’s University and People for Education. Klinger, D.A.; Lee, E.A.; Stephenson, G.; Deluca, C.; Luu, K (2009) “Exemplary School Libraries in Ontario.” Ontario Library Association. Toronto.

Queen’s University and People for Education. (2006) School Libraries and Student Achievement in Ontario. Ontario Library Association. Toronto.

Ravitch, Diane. (2010) The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. Basic Books. New York.

Sahlberg, Pasi. (2011) Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? Teachers College Press. New York.

Schanzenback, D.W. (2014) Does Class Size Matter? National Education Policy Centre. Boulder CO.Retrieved February 19, 2014 from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/does-class-size-matter.

Upitis, Rena and Smithrim, Katherine. (2002) Learning Through the Arts, National Assessment 1999-2003, Final Report Part I: Grade Student Achievement and Engagement. Kingston.

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