Testing rooted in learning

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Recommendations

Cancel EQAO grades 3 and 6 tests.

Respect teacher professional judgement and place more emphasis on the role of ongoing teacher assessment of student progress.

Revise the Ontario elementary curriculum by reducing the number of prescribed student outcomes and identifying, instead, a set of core learning goals.

Provide all elementary classrooms with resources that support hands-on, experiential learning.

ETFO has consistently raised concerns about how Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) tests, first administered in 1997, have negatively affected elementary classrooms. These tests promote an overly narrow focus on literacy and numeracy to the detriment of a more holistic program. They create a test-driven school culture through the large number of diagnostic assessments that the Ministry of Education and school boards have imposed as part of the drive to improve provincial test results. The tests and preparation for them consume considerable classroom time and create stress for students and their teachers. They also demotivate students, lead to “teaching to the test,” and fail to measure more complex skills required for problem solving and innovation.

EQAO test results are also being misused by real estate agents and organizations like the Fraser Institute to rank schools and neighbourhoods. Additionally, they’re used by the government’s online School Information Finder to compare schools. This is socially divisive and a misuse of the results. ETFO believes EQAO’s $36 million budget would be better spent if the funds were allocated to frontline education programs.

The narrow focus on literacy, numeracy, and student performance in EQAO assessments over two decades has led to system fatigue. Educators – from classroom teachers to superintendents – are stressed. So are students. It is not only staff who are calling for fundamental changes. Ontario-based education experts advocate for a new vision for education, one that is not focused on standardized test results. Their vision is based on creating supportive and collaborative school cultures where educators can exercise their professional judgement 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 that Ontario students participate in, conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), are random sample tests.

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 immediate feedback about their own progress and helps them 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’ professional judgement and ongoing classroom assessment skills rather than on the EQAO tests. This view is supported by a majority of Ontarians, with over two-thirds (68 per cent) agreeing that EQAO testing doesn’t accurately measure student success and that teachers’ classroom assessment should take higher priority.