The release is linked above, and ETFO also has a few YouTube videos, here and here, on its convention site.
The Federation says the standardized testing in its current form is a costly exercise that is failing students and forcing teachers to abandon key parts of a balanced education for too much of the school year.ETFO has been getting pretty complimentary coverage on this over the past 24 hours. I can drive a truck through what has been said— to the point I was restraining myself from yelling back at Prof. Joel Westheimer as he was being interviewed on CBC Radio One today. Particularly tough to swallow was the use of politically loaded language in comparing EQAO testing to the U.S. "No Child Left Behind" program when there are dramatic differences.
“Something is very wrong when areas including science, history, social studies and the arts are getting sidelined in the race to get young students prepared for EQAO, which is focused solely on literacy and math,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond, adding that teachers are being buried by testing initiatives. Addressing over 500 delegates to the Federation’s Annual Meeting in Toronto today, Hammond unveiled new research and a video that documents significant teacher concerns regarding EQAO testing and its impact on education.
The Federation commissioned Environics Research Group to convene eight focus groups of ETFO teachers across the province to probe their experience with EQAO testing as well as other assessment tools and strategies they are using in the classroom.
“Teachers told us EQAO testing does little to improve learning. It was originally set up to test the system as a whole, but now it is driving what gets taught in the classroom,” added Hammond. “We’re asking for a moratorium and review of the testing regime and a reduction in the number of Ministry initiatives driven by the test so that teachers can have the time to get back to providing a balanced education for every student.”
After 14 years of testing ETFO decided last year to survey its members on the tests, then made it a focus of an issue of its members' magazine this past March. It was no surprise the federation pushed its dislike of the testing to the top. It has never spoken out in favour of standardized testing since it was introduced. The complaint of teaching to the test is also an old one that is wearing out its welcome— show me anyone who would say they disagree with teaching to a test that measures how well Grade 3 and 6 students know how to read, write and do math. If the test assesses skills that are important things, then what's wrong with teaching to the test? ETFO doesn't go as far as to completely abandon a need to teach these skills, but it comes pretty close with this orchestrated campaign to make us all afraid of EQAO.
But here's the reality. Prior to the introduction of EQAO, there was no standardized data set available to educators and researchers on just how well students were doing in vital life skills such as literacy and numeracy. Teachers and administrators who measure how well students are doing in these areas are infinitely better prepared to know how every student is progressing and have learning prepared that is appropriate for that student. Without a solid set of data to back that up, it's like trying to play darts in the dark.
Even if you're not a fan of data-based decision making, there's ETFO's claim that other subject areas are being prejudiced by preparing for the EQAO test. Is it happening? Sure. Does it have to? Not at all.
I've personally witnessed schools where the literacy and numeracy work is so integrated through the rest of the curriculum (and vice-versa) that it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Students can spend time in a literacy block (as scheduled on paper) learning about amphibians — part of their science curriculum — where they both end up learning science and reinforcing the literacy skills they need to be successful on their EQAO. One school I was at had completely eliminated social science as a block on the schedule, because teachers integrated social science into their literacy blocks.
Integrating the "whole child" approach into how literacy skills are taught and practised is possible. It can be done, and those schools and teachers that aren't doing it should get the help to learn how to do it— though apparently not from ETFO itself, given its position.
This attempt by ETFO to kill the EQAO testing should just live out its days quietly in the corner, neglected by the rest of us until the federation finds some new evil its members detest to rail against. On that note, we're only a year or so away from the next round of contract negotiations, so it shouldn't be long.