Why I somewhat agree with ETFO’s negative position on standardized testing

Pencil on school test. Click for Peter Greene's article on Huff Post.
Pencil on school test. Click for Peter Greene’s article on Huff Post.

Who benefits the most from standardized testing? Certainly, in Ontario, the EQAO agency which conducts the testing benefits to the tune of millions and millions of taxpayer dollars a year. Another beneficiary is the Fraser Institute that provides annual “reports” on how schools rank. As well, some schools and municipalities benefit when schools in their areas have averages that are higher than the norm — resulting in some parents actually relocating to those communities.

However, contrary to the Fraser Institute’s “key academic indicators of school performance” (on page 5 in the above link), their reports are empty of specifics. Here, for example is what some of those so-called indicators look like.

1. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in reading
2. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in writing; and
3. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in mathematics.

Now, exactly where are the “academic” or “learning objectives” in the indicators? Do the test results indicate, for example, that students were able to identify words in text — which is the first “fluency” phase of reading? Or, in terms of comprehension, do the test results prove that students in Grade 3 were able to identify the main idea in a paragraph? Or, in the average level of achievement in math, were the Grade 3’s able to add and subtract in three columns?

In other words, while the Fraser Institute’s Report indicates there are four standards used by EQAO (e.g., levels one to four), their indicators actually indicate nothing.

There is so much more to a school than cold, static, standardized test results. There are academic subjects such as social studies, history and science. There is also phys ed and extra-curricular activities, such as chess clubs, bands, art clubs, basketball, volleyball and baseball. In all those instances, children are learning new things, as well as how to get along with others and how to cope in the world.

Plus, let’s not forget there are opportunities for parents to volunteer and get to know their child’s teachers and what goes on in their child’s school day to day.

I frequently hear non-teachers talking about the entitlement attitude of today’s teachers. That too bothers me and I say so regularly. However, how many parents, in the midst of such complaining, will also tell you that they like and appreciate their own children’s teachers?

In the U.S., under President Obama, teachers have been fired for low standardized test results that measure so little of what students are actually learning. As Peter Greene says in his Huff Post column: “What about identifying schools that need help? Is the data used to help those schools? Not unless by ‘help’ you mean ‘close’ or ‘take over’ or ‘strip of resources so students can go to a charter instead.’ Our [the U.S.] current system does not identify schools for help; it identifies schools for punishment.”

Anyway, check out this video and list of reasons the Ontario elementary teachers union (ETFO) recommends a random sampling approach, as opposed to 100% standardized participation in the various grades affected. It is why I somewhat agree with their complaints about EQAO standardized testing. There really are other methods of evaluation that would be more helpful to parents.

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Sandy

Sandy is a retired educator, author & former conservative political strategist. She operated the first "Crux of the Matter" from 2006 until 2017 and opened this "Crux of the Matter 2.0" blog in late August, 2018.

5 thoughts on “Why I somewhat agree with ETFO’s negative position on standardized testing

  1. Hi, Sandy

    Back in the day, our children’s school ran their own standardized tests every year. It was just something that happened, as far as the students were concerned. But these tests, combined with the teacher observations, gave valuable feedback as to the strengths and weaknesses of the students. And it wasn’t just testing the students; as one teacher told me, if the whole class or grade was weak in certain aspects of a particular subject, they (the teachers) took a very hard look as to what had gone wrong.

    And yes, I do realize that classes vary from year to year – saw that back in high school days. I also recognize that some schools are more difficult than others. However, it seems to me that too many “educators” – both front-line teachers and administration – are extremely quick to use these factors as excuses for poor performance rather that adapt their teaching methods to better engage the students and help them learn.

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  2. I agree Frances. When I was teaching elementary, standardized tests were used to help students and schools improve. That is not the case today. It is very different. Beyond the ranking, they are very little utility now. They were called CTBS — Canadian Test of Basic Skills. As the Society for Quality Education says, those tests are still available from Nelson Canada. I would be delighted if they used them again. They actually did some good.

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  3. A few years ago, my daughter was several years into WNCP math. In my estimation, she was not “getting it.” (And I tried my best to help her.) You’re probably aware that WNCP did not teach methodical methods of always getting the right answer, but encouraged students to discover their own way to do math. (This, in itself, is not wrong… the problem is not providing a never-fail fallback such as “standard algorithm” for multiplying in two columns. Her most common question when I was helping her was “which strategy should I use for this one?”)
    Anyway, the province (I believe) decided to do a math test across all schools in her grade. Her teacher spent several weeks sending her home with drills (remember… “drills don’t work”) and some “older” methods of doing math. The teacher emphasized how important it was that their class do well on this test. She came home worried about this. I may have not made the right decision, but I informed her that this test wasn’t really about how well she was doing, but more about how the teacher was doing. (Mistake, since she repeated that to her teacher — he wasn’t impressed.)
    I think standardized testing has its place, but the focus of the education system today is not on teaching children, but on ensuring jobs for teachers. (I apologize if you find that offensive… I, too, spent nine years working in Education.)

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  4. Hi Scott. No I don’t find what you said offensive. Both my husband and I were teachers, me quite a long time ago, and things have changed big time — and not for the good. When I was teaching at the university level it was part of my job to supervise/counsel prospective teachers. I did that right up until fifteen years ago. I was on leave and working for a Harris era MPP during the 1997 strike. I was appalled!

    Anyway, gradually, since then the focus has changed on what the union can get to improve salaries and benefits. Very little today has to do with the children. Yet, even as I say that, there are some wonderful teachers out there. Unfortunately, the loud ones are ruining it for the good ones.

    It goes without saying that I don’t agree with the way math is taught now. As you hint, I agree, math drills like ten tests, are critical to learning the facts. Manitoba has gone back to compulsory basic math skills thank goodness. Ontario and Alberta not so much.

    As I have disclosed many times on CotM, I get a reduced pension and no health benefits and am very grateful for what I get. When I taught at the university level in the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s, the name of the game were annual sessional contracts, not tenure. No benefits. Save for your own retirement. Yet, I wouldn’t have changed anything. I loved every minute. Now, so many “in the system” are spoiled.

    But EQAO is mostly responsible for the way teachers in Ontario treat the standardized tests. I believe it is against the law to even see the tests beforehand. And, as I said in my post, all they can do is sit at their desks and let the kids flounder. Not a good way to test what skills a child knows. Besides, the results are not used to improve skills.

    Which brings me to teacher performance. These types of tests are being used by the Obama Admin in the U.S. to fire teachers. Some really good teachers have lost their jobs, all because they happen to teach in poor urban schools where most of the kids have no access to computers and laptops as they are in richer neighbourhoods. My grandsons have tablets. They are aged 4 and 6. So, by the time they got to JK, they were already proficient in some reading and math areas. What goes on in the home really does matter. It’s not only about good or bad teaching.

    Sorry, I got on a rant here. LOL

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  5. One more thing, as I said in another comment in this thread, I wish the Ontario Ministry of Ed would go back to the old CTBS tests. They not only tested teacher competence but helped teachers know what skills a child or children needed to learn. They also allowed for an individual community curriculum, say in social studies. For example, kids in Northern Ontario communities learned more about hunting and fishing and the history of their area, integrating all that history into the core curriculum, just as kids in Southern Ontario and wine country did. Not all kids are the same and not all communities are the same.

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