Tuesday, August 17, 2010

ETFO hates EQAO? What a shocker.

Love the attention this is getting over the past 24 hours. As you've no doubt heard unless you've been under a rock, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario opened in 2010 convention in Toronto with a strong statement asking the Ministry of Education to suspend Education Quality and Accountability Office testing for two years.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.


Anonymous said...

The EFTO is simply not with us in the real world sometimes...or so it seems.

What matters to most is that at the end of the day we need to know how our kids are doing and be able to prove that through measurement.

The ETFO seems to be on yet another collision course with yet another provincial government. It's getting very old and if it's supposed to be considered a PR strategy they're becoming less and less convincing.

Next us...as predictable as this unions sentiments will be the parent groups that they count on to get to school councils and other parents not wise to the strategy.

Hey ER - are you picking up any of the theatrics of the unions fighting over the ECEs? Really pathetic.

Oh and there's a lengthy article in the Huron County paper on how the ELP is threatening 11 regional municipal childcare centres and the elected officials aren't taking kindly to the stripping of their efforts or of the partnerships they've built over the years.

Education Reporter said...

Anon 18 Aug. 10:26:
Agreed— ETFO certainly has not done an effective job with its PR campaigns since the last particularly successful one. That was the campaign 200 and the one on getting occasional teachers significant contract improvements. Another recent one was the win on getting full-time teachers into the full-day kindergarten program.

Its most recent PDT battle was a failure, with elementary teachers losing wage parity with others across Ontario. The attempt to grab ECEs is failing in a similar fashion. Every time they seem to take a step forward with this government, they take two or three in the opposite direction.

As to the kindergarten / childcare changes, I've written about it here plenty. Click the ELP label to see them all. The next few years will be interesting, as I'm sure many childcare providers will cry foul over losing their profit centres (four- and five-year-olds who attend only part-time). Those who can shift quickly to providing service to school-aged kids and lobbying for better cost-revenue balances on pre-school care will fare better.


Sandy Crux said...

Hugo -- Actually there was a series before EQAO called CTBS or the Canadian Test of Basic Skills. I started teaching in 1972 and didn't go to grad school until the early 1980's. And, I know for a fact that we administered the CTBS every year for years with none of the screaming and yelling you hear from ETFO now.


Bottom line -- Society needs some standard upon which to judge that their children and youth are getting the skills they need for the real world -- even when the stats are anonymous.

What ETFO doesn't like is not the tests per se but the fact that Fraser and Howe are using them to rank schools.

Unions don't like competition! As a retired educator, I say we need that kind of accountability and competition to ensure excellence.

If McGuinty & company give in, then Hudak has just won the 2011 provincial election. Which is why they will wait and do it if they get another majority. Guaranteed!

Education Reporter said...


I remember writing the CTBS in elementary school. It was my first experience with bubble-filling.

Was that a random sample test? Did every school do it? I know ETFO advocates for (a return to) random-sample testing instead of a mandated one like the EQAO assessments.


Sandy Crux said...

You know Hugo, I can't remember too many details at this point in time. But, if it was random, it was by school because when I had to administer them, all the kids in my class got them.

Come to think of it, random standardized testing wouldn't be such a bad idea. It would stop the school rankings and popularity contests, while still showing how Canadian children are performing overall and what provinces need improvement and in what subject areas.

We couldn't teach to the test per se but I can remember taking a few days before each set of tests and reviewing with the kids what I thought would be on it, in terms of skills.

But, you see, the CTBS wasn't a "threat" to anyone.

Hmmm. Something to think about. Given the link I gave you, its obvious also that the series of tests are still available.

So, if anyone stops by here from the ETFO executive, how would you react to a return to the CTBS?

Banderblogger said...

Personally, I wondered what took ETFO so long to openly criticize EQAO. All teachers have seen how school boards have warped the delivery of curriculum to accommodate the testing. Why has it taken ETFO so long to articulate what its members have been saying for years. EQAO has little bearing on workload, but it has taken the focus off the well-being of the students and placed it squarely on academic results. I personally can't wait for this pendulum to swing back.

Education Reporter said...


Must disagree, sorry. EQAO has changed the way things are taught, absolutely agree. In some places that's been a negative change, implemented by people who don't believe in the testing to begin with. In other schools however, EQAO led the movement towards both data-based instruction as well as the increasing push for differentiated instruction and a heads-over-tails revamp on how literacy is taught.

Teachers who've adopted and adapted have not given up on students' well being and to suggest so is ridiculous.

I come back to my refrain— what's so bad about a school system focused on reading, writing and math?


banderblogger said...

Sorry to respond to a response Hugo, but I don't think my post was clear. I don't believe that either teachers or school boards have given up students' well-being, but the laser-beam focus on increasing test scores has taken the emphasis on other aspects of school life that were once more prominent. Areas such as the Arts, Physical Education and extra-curricular activities have lost their shine, students who are exempt from testing because of exceptionalities are receiving less support, even "soft" yet vital projects such as Character Education are fading because their results are difficult to quantify. I'm not saying that these areas have been abandoned, but there is only so much resource available and the boards' goal to improve test scores currently has the lion's share.

Testing, yes even standardized testing, has its place, but the current craze is not helpful.
For years at the Ontario Association of Directors of Education conference, reps from OISE pushed and pushed the importance and need for emphasis on EQAO results. At the last few OADE conferences, they have begun to backpedal a bit and sound the warning that perhaps boards and the Ministry have embraced their previous advice a bit too strongly. I'll be curious what you hear during your stint at OISE.

I'll bet my last dollar that EQAO is here to stay in one form or another, but it is still early days (relatively speaking) and the Ministry and the boards need to find a way to make it work, for the system and the students.

In the meantime, teachers see the immediate fallout and effect on their students and children. I don't think their concerns should be dismissed, but instead taken into serious consideration when determining how standardized testing can be best implemented.

Of course ETFO's call was drastic and politically charged . . . that's politics and you always ask for more than you expect to get. It's also a way to make headlines and begin the discussion.

Again, I am eager to hear what you pick up at OISE. I know that standardized test results will be valuable to any academic that studies Education, but I am sure that there will be detractors -- as there should be in the halls of academia -- and I'm interested what they have to say as well.

Best of luck there and if you're going to be commuting, avoid the Gardiner for the next few months; it's a nightmare in the morning.