*Please note all opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect on my Principal, School, School Board or even my own husband.

**Also note that although I am a teacher, I do have a learning disability. You may see evidence of this through my writing with my many run-on sentences and homonym mix-ups. I still have good ideas and won't let that stop me from expressing them and I tell my students the same thing.

***Even though many people think teachers know everything, I do not, in fact I know I have a lot to learn and that is part of why I love teaching. Feel free to teach me knew things, but when you leave comments, I ask that you be nice about it - thanks.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

EQAO testing

This year I teach Grade 5, but more often that not I teach Grade 6 and that is an EQAO testing year.  In fact, EQAO is running right now.  I can't say I miss it!

First, if you are reading this out of Ontario, EQAO stands for Evil Questions Attacking Ontario... oops, no that is what the students call it, it actually stands for Education Quality and Accountability Office.  Students in Ontario write standardized tests in Grade 3, 6 and 9 and a literacy test in Grade 10.

Let me be clear, I absolutely believe their needs to be accountability in any field of work.  I want my doctor to know what she is doing, I want a bus driver who is driving students to be well trained and I want teachers, including my own children's teachers, to be good at their job. If I am being honest, I want the quality of education that my children get to be inspiring!  I want them to want to learn and come home excited about their day at school, but I try to make my expectations reasonable and am happy when they simply enjoy going to school on a daily basis and that they are indeed learning.

The question is, does the EQAO test provide accountability?  Personally, I think there are just too many flaws with the system to make it do that.  Let's start a list:
  • Grade 6 teachers have to rush their curriculum to be done by the end of May to ensure students have learned everything they will be tested on.
  • Teachers are strongly encouraged to have every student write the test, even if we know it will cause a student distress: ESL students, ADHD students, students with learning disabilities, students diagnosed with anxiety... 
  • If your school scores high, you don't get any funding to improve.  For years, my school received NO literacy coaching, NO money for new resources and little access to board workshops because the test showed we were doing above average. (Therefore we fell quite behind in current teaching methodologies and spent years catching up)
  • If your school scores low, then you receive funding and coaching, which is great.  However from colleagues of mine who taught at OFIP schools (Ontario Focused Intervention Partnership) it was often overwhelming. Teacher received so much coaching and direction that there was little room for creativity or inquiry based learning.
  • Students write exams for 6 days, often in a row, and for 2 periods straight OR until they are done the test of the day. 
  • There is no choice in activity, there is no partner to brainstorm with, no Chromebook to use for research, no time to revise answers later after you have thought about it.... it just isn't done in the way students normally work.
  • Questions are standardized and quite often asked in a way that they may not be in the classroom, often wordy and sometimes confusing.
  • You can not help a child with the test.  I can't give a prompt or a reminder, or clarify what a question is asking, they can't look back at their notes or use an anchor chart that they would have been able to use in class.  
  • The test only tests Language and Math, so all those students who are good at Science, Gym or Drawing don't have a chance to show their strengths.
  • Is it really testing students or teachers?  I know that this test is supposed to test cumulative skills throughout the grades, but IF you have a Grade 6 teacher that does not teach their students the relationship between a triangle and rectangles or ratio or about rotations... students are... well, they are screwed, because they absolutely test specific Grade 6 curriculum expectations. So then does the test tell you about the students and where they need help or that they had a crappy teacher for 1 year?  
  • It goes completely against what the current teaching methodologies are promoting.  We're being encouraged to have students critically think, to work collaboratively, to not memorize, but understand,, to apply knowledge they have learned, to offer feedback about their thinking... this test does not include any of these.
  • Every teacher is different and some Grade 6 teachers teach to the test.  Which they say is really just teaching the curriculum, because that is what EQAO tests.  I agree with that to an extent, BUT when you: re-use old test questions, have students write super long explanatory answers that you would not otherwise have them do, have them show their work in multiple ways with Numbers, Pictures and Words, teach students "how to write a test" - guess on answers, tell them not to leave anything blank, write a much as they can... then we are losing sight of what is important.  AND then, we compare this Grade 6 class, to a class who has a different teacher who may use hands on, collaborative teaching and inquiry based learning, where students have not had to sit still for 2 hours and write a test without being able to ask a simple question. All of a sudden this doesn't seem so standardized does it?
This isn't even a comprehensive list, just what comes to the top of my head...

So why can EQAO be valuable?  

Administration can use it to determine areas of weakness in your school and to plan School Improvement Plans, but my question is why do I need this test to tell me where my students are weak?  I know where my students are weak this year, I don't have to wait for some test to tell me when I get results back next fall.  Okay, sure maybe I couldn't tell you they were weak specifically in the communication area of patterning, but I don't really believe that is where I want to focus my time either.  My class is weak in the area of resilience.  They make a lot of excuses for themselves, blame others for their lack of effort, they can not solve a problem on their own and guess what?  I think this is much better data than what EQAO will tell me.  I'd much rather spend provincial money on a motivational speaker that could help inspire my kids to keep going or take responsibility for their own actions, maybe invest in a program that would help them apply real world problem solving skills. (and don't get me wrong, I know my class needs to work in this area, but we are working on it and that is part of my job and I love my class)

I saw on a website that it costs over 30 million dollars to run EQAO for 1 year.  WOW!  Imagine what else we could do with that money. 

So how should we hold teachers accountable?  Stay tuned for my next post to find out my thoughts :) In the meantime, feel free to add your standardized testing thoughts below. 

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