"There’s a natural tendency to value what we measure, rather than measuring what we value."
Ontario’s students do better, but still behind
Ontario students continue to make steady gains in reading, writing and math, but not as many as the province would like.
Results of the latest round of provincial testing, obtained by the Toronto Star in advance of their release this morning, show more students in grades 3, 6 and 9 have met provincial standards on the provincial tests in reading, writing and math.
Math continues to cause some students trouble, with slightly fewer grade 6 students making the grade, and grade 9 French students in applied math also struggling.
Overall, 68 per cent of students in grades 3 and 6 are meeting the standards in reading, writing and math, up from 67 per cent in 2008-09, and from 54 per cent in 2002-03.
Still, the province has not met its long-ago promised target of 75 per cent, which it had hoped to reach by 2008.
But test results naturally plateau after several years, experts say.
“Some (tests) show no change after about four years — they’ve actually shown some increase over the years,” said Don Klinger, an education professor at Queen’s University who is also part of Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) panel.
He said the province’s EQAO has done better than most jurisdictions in seeing a boost in results.
The challenge now is how the system can better serve those students who typically do not fare well in such testing — generally those from lower-socioeconomic groups and those in rural communities, Klinger said.
The 2009-10 results come as teacher unions exert pressure on the government for a two-year moratorium on the $32-million-a-year tests for about 500,000 students, arguing more public consultations are needed on the value of such large-scale assessments.
The EQAO was established in 1996.
But some experts say the tests aren’t going anywhere — governments need them to show the money they are spending is paying off, and parents like them.
The value of EQAO testing is that it is a “rough audit” of how the system is doing, said John Myers, of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.
Myers added, however, that there is “not a shred of evidence” that such testing improves the system. He noted that Japan and Singapore, which do well in international rankings, conduct a lot of such testing, while Finland, which also does well, does very little.
“It confirms kids whose backgrounds aren’t as wealthy as other kids tend not to do as well. It allows a look at bright spots — where schools in poor areas are doing better than expected, what’s the secret? What are they doing differently and is the different stuff worth it?
“It serves a limited purpose, but (the tests) are not going away.”
Myers also noted that Ontario results come after children have moved on to another grade, “and one of the things we know about quality feedback is that it needs to occur fairly soon after the event.”
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, has said the tests are costly, stress students out and force teachers to focus narrowly on literacy and numeracy and spend less time on other subjects that aren’t tested.
They are also misused to rank schools, and some experts say they are overused by schools as they create improvement plans.
In 2005, the province cut the testing time in half and scheduled them later in the school year because of teacher concerns.
The union would ultimately like to see the test done away with, a call the province has rejected.
Students in grades 3 and 6 are tested in math, reading and writing; Grade 9 students are tested in math, and Grade 10 students must pass a literacy test in order to graduate from high school.
The province has created a $70 million Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat to help schools and teachers with resources.
Calls by teachers for a moratorium on tests come as their colleagues in the U.K. boycotted testing earlier this spring.
Experts say while such tests do have some value, EQAO should be looking to the future.
The value is that using the EQAO data can be “one measure that helps schools focus their efforts,” said Klinger.
Louis Volante of Brock University says Ontario is getting “pretty close” to plateaued results.
He also said that while EQAO testing measures reading and writing, “what about speaking and listening,” which are also keys to literacy?
“There’s a natural tendency to value what we measure, rather than measuring what we value.”