The EQAO: To Be Or Not To Be

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BY: KATHY MCDONALD 

At the October 10th regular meeting of the Peel District School Board, the board passed a motion to write a letter to the Minister of Education, Mitzie Hunter requesting that the EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) testing be suspended for the 2017/2018 school year. The decision was not a unanimous one and there was quite a lengthy debate. I will present both sides of the debate and encourage parents to pay close attention to the events that may or may not occur as a result of this motion.

The motion submitted read: “Whereas there has always been a strong discrepancy between Peel District School Board report card results in mathematics and EQAO mathematics scores, and  Whereas the Ministry of Education has stated that it is time to “examine provincial measurement and assessment policy including EQAO testing”. Therefore, be it proposed the Peel District School Board request the Ministry of Education to suspend EQAO testing for the 2107/2018 school year and request the support of Ontario public school board associations and all other public school boards in Ontario for this motion.“

The supporters of this motion argued that since the Ministry of Education is reviewing the test, boards should not administer it until the review is completed. Many also argued that the EQAO does not take into account factors such as high ESL (English as a Second Language) populations, transient populations, poverty or other barriers to success in standardized tests. The naysayers also argued that realtors and other institutions unfairly rank schools solely based on these scores that are merely a snapshot of a student’s achievement. What about the validity of the report card that is the reflection of a student’s achievement as mirrored by a teacher that knows the student more personally? Others argued that the test is not culturally responsive, equitable and does not align with the modern learner. A student that just arrives in Canada that may not be fully competent in English is still required to write the test and that student’s score will be tabulated and used to calculate on the schools overall standing. Critics of the EQAO also felt that the EQAO tends to label schools and in turn unfairly label teachers and staff. 

The EQAO website states “EQAO assess how well Ontario’s public education system is developing students’ reading, writing and math skills. EQAO provides reliable and useful information that is used to help improve student achievement and ensure the accountability of school boards”. The EQAO is a direct measure of the Ontario Curriculum measure of expectation. The EQAO has both an implicit and explicit component. The test seeks to look at the implicit understanding in text by extending the understanding of a text to one’s own personal knowledge. In the numeracy assessment rubric, the application of mathematical concepts is assessed as well as number sense, measurement, geometry, spatial sense, pattering, algebra, data management and probability. Students have to convey their thinking and understanding of mathematical concepts.

The trustees that did not support the motion argued that it is important to have accountability measures. When the EQAO results are published each year the Ministry of Education gets valuable information that it uses to guide for example, what extra supports needed for schools that are struggling. Based on the EQAO results and after careful analysis, the Ministry of Education often provides extra funding to help initiatives that aim to improve student’s outcomes in any identified schools that are below ministry expectations. In the past when the literacy test scores were not satisfactory the government poured significant financial support into improving the literacy competencies. The initiatives appear to be successful as the literacy scores continue to be above the provincial expectations for most students. However, in the area of numeracy students appear to still struggle. What might the review reveal to educators, students, parents, and policymakers? Could it be that math instruction needs to be reevaluated? What about the delivery and the content of the curriculum? What happens to our marginalized students when the accountability piece is removed from the equation? How will we know if they are being adequately served by an education system that may or may not truly believe in their potential? What impact will the absence of empirical data have on student data collection and the potential supports that can improve student outcomes? Disaggregated data collection analysis is at the center of this debate.

What does the EQAO really tell us about your child and their learning? What does the EQAO tell you about your child and their learning? What impact does the EQAO have on your family? Caregivers, do you know that there are many national and international math tests that students can write? It would be interesting to have more students participating so we could have yet another gauge as to the numeracy competency of children across the province. Later I will discuss the actual report that is generated for an individual that wrote the test, what it means to him or her, what it means for the school, what it means for the PDSB and how this relates to all students provincially. So, Walk Good. Belle Marché.

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