Monday, December 14, 2009

ETFO/OECTA v. EQAO, round two

Couple things popped up in recent days in regards to the first stages of what might be a co-ordinated campaign by the teachers' federations in regards to Education Quality and Accountability Office; testing.
First was the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario newsletter, sent out Friday, indicating the federation would feature EQAO testing as its main article in the March edition of its members' newsletter / magazine, "Voice." Don't forget to view the survey, here.
Specific experiences and anecdotes are welcome and encouraged. A selection of your responses will be published in the magazine.
This looks like a selective examination of EQAO from the federation's perspective— an organization that's never been a fan of standardized testing of its members' students and went as far as to suggest random-sample testing earlier this year.
Then, Tyler Kula in Sarnia had this published Monday indicating the St. Clair local of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association's opposition to the test— with a response from the board.
"With respect to our board in particular, it really does seem to have obsessed more than others with performance on these tests," said Liz Holmes, local president of the Ontario Elementary Catholic Teacher's Association.
The St. Clair Catholic District School Board routinely scores above provincial standards in reading, writing and mathematics in Grades 3 and 6. Students also perform well in Grade 9 math testing.
The problem, Holmes said, is that standardized testing decreases a teacher's ability to deliver the provincial curriculum and instead focusses (sic) professional development and classroom supports on improving test scores.
Professional development under the Ontario Focussed (sic) Intervention Partnership (OFIP) provides strategies aimed solely at improving test scores, she said. Administrators say they focus on increasing student success.
"They have funneled a lot of effort, time and money into making the EQAO scores go up," Holmes said.
The best response to this I've ever heard is, "there's nothing wrong with teaching to the test if the test is testing things worth testing." The tests are based on the Ontario curriculum expectations in the elementary years, so teaching to the test is teaching the actual curriculum. The recent AG report served to highlight this reality, complimenting the EQAO for ensuring its annual tests do match the curriculum and are relevant.
Further, if teachers aren't teaching to the test— what the hell are they teaching?
The smart people out there would respond it's not what they're teaching but how. Well, the test is based on multiple-choice, true/false and open response questions. The open response questions highlight comprehension of written material as well as writing skills in different styles (ie: Write a letter to your principal asking for new equipment for your gym. State reasons why.) Again, all important skills and there are a variety of methods to teach them. Are they all being used? Maybe not, but this isn't what OECTA is slamming, it's critical of the test itself.
So we could have a problem of interpretation— where the association sees the professional development its members receive as aimed at improving test results only. Again, the test measures important skills and abilities, so they're actually getting PD on how to do a better job teaching these. Improved test results are a byproduct. They're funneling effort, time and money into doing better at teaching the related skills. The higher test scores are one result.
These two items are particularly concerning as the EQAO and its assessments move into their second decade. These are early-implementation questions and doubts. Further, these are two things I don't think the federations will gain any traction with amongst parents or the public at large.


Anonymous said...

Yep, I agree with what you're saying ER.

At some point in time, whether through EQAO or an other vehicle some sort of measurement would have to be initiated.

I don't see it as a problem of interpretation though. It could be, but perhaps educators are just frustrated that they're doing everything that their PD and ministry is asking of them and yet the scores haven't improve a whole lot and in some cases flat-lined or gotten worse.

What the education faculties don't do is arm educators with those effective method and programs that will see kids succeed in any form of achievement measurement.

In an odd way I think the system has let educators down.

The effort to eliminate the testing might seem like a slam dunk to the unions who see the Minister as bending to them at other times why not nix the testing too?

Education Reporter said...

Anon 14 Dec. 16:22
Agreed, faculties of ed. don't do a good job at arming teachers with strategies, programs, etc. It's left to school boards and the ministry (hey, through places like the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat!).

If the system has let educators down, why isn't OECTA/ETFO running after the teachers' colleges for lousy pre-service education? Why isn't it running after the LNS or boards of the ministry for more effective programs?

It's so much easier (and perhaps politically effective among its membership) to attack the EQAO and the test. For shame.


RetDir said...

I agree ER - there are early indications that ETFO is trying to organize their members to boycott the EQAO assessments. They are trying to gauge the extent to which their members would support this. One interpretation of this would be an illegal strike... The unions are terrified of anything that might measure teacher effectiveness, and hide behind professionalism to argue against it. By so doing they are undermining the only existing tool to prove that teachers make a difference... but I guess their problem is some make a greater difference than others.

Anonymous said...

the ETFO just seems to walk into PR distasters one after another.

Seems to me that the general public is going to want measurable proof that their tax dollars are being used wisely. That proof could be in the EQAO results.

murisak said...

The reason why the federations don't like the testing (and never have) is because it just might show that some teachers are doing a good job and others are doing a poor job of teaching the curriculum. Period.

In an atmosphere that reinforces mediocrity, the federations don't like tall poppies!

Education Reporter said...

Anon 14 Dec. 22:24
I wouldn't quite go that far... some times regardless of how good/bad a teacher may be, the students' performance rises or falls regardless.

Some cohorts of kids don't do as well on EQAO testing as others. These blips need to be taken into account.