The Good And The Bad

There has been lots of talk on Twitter lately about EQAO. Students across Ontario started writing the test this week, and educators had lots to say about it. I have been reading many of the tweets, and I even replied to a few, but overall, I’ve stayed quiet about this test. You see, one thing that initially excited me about moving from Grades 1 and 2 to Grade 6 was that I would finally get to administer EQAO. For years, I’ve been dissecting the data at staff meetings and making changes to my program based on the results, and now, I was going to be directly involved in the process. I was thrilled!

I think that for many students, EQAO provides the opportunity for them to show what they’ve learned throughout the year. The results can allow teachers to reflect on their teaching practices and look at changes to make to meet with more student success. I don’t think this is a bad thing. In fact, even as a Grade 1 and 2 teacher, I used our staff reflections to modify my program delivery model, and I think that the changes were good ones.

But my problem with the process comes from watching students with special needs writing the test. It was with this thought in mind today that I commented on Andrew Campbell’s blog post about EQAO. Here’s a snapshot of what I said:



The thing is that all year, I’ve helped students on IEPs (Individual Education Plans) realize why this plan is in place for them and how it helps them learn. All students now know that with the right accommodations and modifications, they can be successful. The are seeing this success. And then EQAO comes along, and these students cannot receive the same accommodations and modifications that they’ve had all year long. Instead of realizing what they can do, they realize what they can’t.

Now I don’t mark the test, and I have no idea how any of the students will score, but regardless of the mark, it’s the feeling from writing the test that’s bothering me right now. If the purpose of EQAO is to gather data to help bring about change, then do we need to re-examine how some of this data is being gathered? What if students could receive a list of formulas? They would still need to use them correctly, but at least those students with memory difficulties would not be penalized because of their needs. What if teachers and/or scribes could reword the question if students don’t understand it? Those students with language needs do not only struggle with the reading and writing component of the test, but also the math problem solving activities, where understanding language matters. Even just these couple of changes could help.

It was actually in the midst of discussing these very issues with our Math Facilitator, AJ Ingrassia, that I saw the good this year in EQAO. He was talking to me about the importance of posting and explicitly teaching a problem solving model to all students — from Kindergarten to Grade 8. While many of the strategies on the problem solving model that I found on Edugains are ones that I used this year, I didn’t post this model. I had the students discuss the strategies that they used, but I didn’t spend enough time going through options of what students should do independently if they didn’t know how to solve a problem. How could the strategies help them then? The funny thing is that I spent a lot of time on this very topic when I taught Grades 1 and 2, but then I made the assumption that all of my Grade 6’s already knew all of these strategies. I think that this was a wrongful assumption on my part. Even if the students did know all of them, how did I do throughout the year at directing them to use these strategies or selecting the best one when they didn’t know what to do? I made a mistake. Will this affect EQAO scores? Maybe or maybe not, as looking over the tests as they were handed in, I noticed that many students used these strategies regardless. Explicitly teaching this problem solving model though, could change this “many” to “all.” Our discussion today about EQAO resulted in me re-looking at how I teach and looking at something I will be doing differently. I think that’s a good thing.

It’s after a day of much reflection that I’m curious to hear your thoughts on EQAO. What are the benefits and drawbacks of this test? If we have a say, what changes could we make to turn these negatives into positives?



15 thoughts on “The Good And The Bad

  1. Aviva, as you know, this this the third time I as a parent have gone through the experience of EQAO testing with our 3 children at home. I have approached it differently than most parents I have discussed this test with. I have always given our children the choice to take part in this test. I am not a supporter of standardized testing for exactly the reasons you have mentioned above. Not all children learn or express themselves in in the same way. I also feel that this test puts undue stress on the students, especially those that approach learning in a different way than say the majority of students. Two of our three children have chose to complete this test and I will support them through that, just as I support our other child to not complete it. Our children will be exposed to many different types of testing as they grow into adulthood. I feel it is too long and that alone can overwhelm a student at this age. I certainly don’t spend time announcing why I don’t like standardized testing here at home, but I have communicated that our children can exercise their right to decide. We do not focus on results, again I know how and why our children succeed at school. I have in the past had one of our kids open and review the results and another not even touch the results envelope. Again, their choice.

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Jen! I love that you give your children the choice to participate or not participate in EQAO, and more so, that you support them regardless of their decision. As educators, we are constantly reminded about the importance of “student choice” — something that I believe very strongly in — and you are giving your children the right to make these important decisions.

      What I especially loved about your comment was towards the end when you mentioned that you know “why your children succeed in school.” If part of the purpose of this test is to uncover this data then I can’t help but wonder if the test is really teaching us something new. You’ve given me a lot to think about! Thank you!


  2. Pingback: Standardized Testing: Teacher reflections on EQAO… | SheilaSpeaking

  3. Thoughtful post, Aviva. I think the benefits of EQAO are the accountability and the standardization and the drawbacks are the accountability and standardization. That’s what makes it a volatile subject. On the one hand, as educators we should be able to demonstrate what we are doing in a measurable way, and student outcomes of learning are certainly a very important measure of this. Standardization is important on such a large scale test to make sure we are all comparing apples. However, fitting everyone into the same box is limiting and not truly reflective of the non-boxlike conditions teachers face or students exhibit. I think we are best served by EQAO when we remember that it is just a small sliver of data we have on our students and our schools and we supplement it with all those other great data sets we have available to us that might paint a fuller picture for us in terms of our student and school needs. It’s just one piece of the puzzle – not the whole picture.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kristi! I think that you make a really important point here. What I find difficult is knowing how much we weigh this “snapshot data” versus how much we weigh the data that we collected all year. How do we determine what to pay attention to and what to ignore? How do we get the most out of this data to inform our teaching practices and make a bigger difference for students?

      There’s so much to consider. I would love to hear what people have to say about this!


      • I’m interested in the comment “as educators we should be able to demonstrate what we are doing in a measurable way”. As educators we are trained, qualified and paid to help students learn and report on that learning. We formally share the results with the students, their families and our supervisors three times each year and with many families have an ongoing daily or weekly conversation about what we are doing. So who then do we need to demonstrate what we are doing to? Who is it that I need to demonstrate it to that isn’t part of my communications and reporting process? And why? What does it mean that three times a year I sign a document that demonstrates “what I’m doing” and people somewhere say they don’t believe me and so students have to be tested. Again.

        I also wonder about letting children choose to write EQAO. Why let them choose to do something that is harmful? What are the limits on this? Can they choose to smoke? Take drugs? Engage in risky behaviour? What’s the limit and when does a parent’s responsibility to protect a child take precedence?

        • Thanks for the comment, Andrew! As always, I appreciate your “push back” and your many questions that have made me think. I definitely respect your opinion, even though I don’t know that I necessarily agree with you. As educators, I think it’s valuable for us to be able to demonstrate to parents and to the community that we’re making a difference for children. And I think that if what we’re doing is not helping kids, then it’s valuable to rethink our approaches and try something new. Do I think that EQAO works for everyone? No. And if my students’ scores are bad, does this mean that I’m doing a terrible job teaching them? No. But have I found it helpful in the past to look at the questions that students are struggling on, and think about why they might have answered the way that they did, and if there’s something that I could do to change my approach to get more correct responses? Yes. Reflecting is a good thing. Now do we reflect in many different ways as educators? Yes. Are there other ways that we’re accountable to parents? Yes. When we complete report cards, we’re reflecting on student learning throughout the year, and the marks and comments we give on these report cards need to match our data. I think this makes us accountable too.

          As for student choice, I think that’s a good thing as well. I don’t necessarily agree that EQAO is harmful for everyone. My concerns are with students that have special needs and are not necessarily receiving the accommodations and modifications that they need to be successful. For other students, EQAO could allow them to really reflect on what they’ve learned all year. Some of the questions are really hard, but I watched students struggle, try again, and meet with success. There’s lots of great articles on the benefits of “allowing students to fail,” and EQAO may be an example of that. Is a choice best for all students? Maybe or maybe not, but I can definitely see some value in it.

          I’m curious to hear what others have to say about this!

  4. So you’re agreeing that we already have a system that makes us accountable and allows for teacher reflection on practice. Which again bring us back to why do we have EQAO? If we already do this stuff we why are we paying money to do it again? For who?

    I’m also not saying EQAO is bad for all students or that students shouldn’t be allowed to fail. I’m wondering why some parents say “I don’t agree with EQAO” but then allow their child to choose. In what other situations does this happen, that an 8 year old gets to choose to do something harmful and the parents allow it? One of the reasons why there’s been lots of writing about ‘letting students fail’ is because we’ve been overprotective of students. Here we being the opposite. Why the change?

  5. Andrew, you never fail to make me think … even at 7:30 on a Friday morning. 🙂 Yes, we have an accountability system in place already, but this is one teacher being accountable to his/her parents. EQAO standardizes this accountability. Teachers vary. Assessments and evaluations, even with the best rubrics around, can be different from teacher to teacher because of the “human factor.” EQAO helps make comparisons in a more standardized way so that we, as teachers, can look for patterns in learning and then choose (or not choose) to make changes accordingly. Is this a perfect system? No. Are there some major problems with it? Yes. Is it possible to create this perfect system (and do we need it)? Now that’s up for debate.

    There’s lots of questions on if the money spent on EQAO would be better spent on more supports within the school system. Would this bring about more change? Quite possibly so. Will EQAO tell me something that I don’t already know about my students, and as such, change me in a way that I wasn’t going to change already? I’m really not sure about that, and maybe I’ll know more in September when I see the scores and start dissecting them more.

    As for the parent piece, I happen to know the parent that replied to this blog post comment, and she believes strongly in giving her children choices and allowing them to be more independent. I think this is a VERY good thing! Is EQAO the only way to do this? No. And while I see why you would consider it “harmful,” I’m not sure that I agree that in this case, it really is that harmful for MOST students. So if a parent allows the child to choose to write EQAO, I don’t think that it’s comparable to the parent allowing the child to do something truly harmful (e.g., smoking drugs — as in your previous comment): a situation in which I would not support the option for student choice.

    We’re learning about point of view in class right now, and maybe this whole debate really is a real-life exercise in point of view. You’ve allowed me to see many different ones and clarify my own thinking around this EQAO debate. Thank you!


  6. Let’s not forget that there are possible exemptions in place for students that may be “harmed” by writing EQAO.
    EQAO – drugs – smoking…really??
    Although, I might not agree with the parent above with allowing her child to not write EQAO, I respect the fact that she’s giving her child a voice. Similarily, she gave her other two kids a voice as they chose to write it. Perhaps we should also consider the students that actually want to write it and want to see how they compare to their provincial counterparts (most likely not so much at the primary level!!). Afterall, year after year, there are a number of students who volunteer to participate in the Gauss math contest.
    Just a thought – I really just wanted to contribute to the conversation – it’s a good one!!

  7. Thanks for weighing in on this conversation, AJ! I absolutely agree with you. For most students, I don’t think that EQAO is harmful even though I don’t necessarily think that it’s the best. Maybe some small changes would help (such as a formula sheet or the ability to reword questions).

    Data can be interesting, and how we use that data is what’s important. I think that Kristi makes a good point about it just being “part of the puzzle,” and this is something to consider.

    I also respect the parent for letting her children choose to write or not to write. Some students thrive with competition, and maybe EQAO brings out some of their best work. As a teacher, this makes me think about how I can use competition more in the classroom (in a positive way for these students).

    So much to consider …

  8. Good exchange here! Thanks for starting the conversation, Aviva! I have plenty of thoughts on this, as some of you know.

    That parents are letting their kids decide about writing the tests, as revealed here and on Andrew’s posts, has had me thinking quite a bit as well.

    I think it might be good for a parent to reflect why they are giving their child the choice. They are either 8 or 11 years old for the elementary tests. We might also need to be clearer what is behind a child’s decision to write or not. Is it appropriate? Should there be some alignment with what the parent(s) believes is right or appropriate?

    I would think that the decision left to the child would be stressful. I know my own would have felt pressure and/or stress about that. As I reflect back on this regarding my own family, I am glad that we modelled for our children that we stand and act on our beliefs. This was not much different than other situations we discuss as a family in trying to decide what feels right for us, even if a majority is doing differently. If they sense we participated in the end only because everyone else was… what message does that send? We ensured that they would not experience any ill-effects, had discussions with staff, and we all felt supported and respected. The decision was about principle and belief, not based on how much stress, or fear of failure, or peer pressure they may have felt. Every year we opted-out had different circumstances and we worked through it.

    We have to remember that student choice with such standardized testing will be much more difficult in Gr. 9 (Math EQAO) and Gr. 10 (OSSLT) for obvious reasons. (EQAO results in Gr. 9 can be included in course mark and the OSSLT is required for graduation). Different discussions will be needed.

    I understand that data is important. But with EQAO, I often wonder if it just became an easy way to prove “accountability” at many levels…. if they must prove accountability… WHO is it really FOR? Is it worth it… in terms of cost and stress on staff?

    • Sheila, thanks for weighing in on this discussion. I can definitely understand your thoughts here. Maybe these discussions are good ones to have with students. Making informed decisions is a great skill to learn, and I don’t see this as a bad thing.

      Accountability can be a good thing as well. The cost factor is a big one, and it’s a question I raised too. I would love to hear what others have to say about this!


  9. I have been a teacher for over 30 years. I have yet to see the results of this test refute what is said on the report card. So why not look at report card data and save the huge amount of money spent on the test?
    Studies repeatedly show we are teaching to the test at the expense of a wide variety of wonderful things we used to have more time for in the classroom like the arts and creative open ended responses to literature.
    Finally, studies say the test is an effective way to identify a students postal code. Test scores are great where parents have more money time and education.
    As Walter Cronkite used to say ” that’s not news, that too is reality.”

    • Cathi, thanks for adding to this conversation! I understand what you’re saying here about test scores. Usually they align closely to what is on the report cards, but I have seen situations of them differing. Is this enough of a reason to spend the money on standardized testing? Maybe or maybe not. What should be spend the money on then? How will we use this money to better meet the needs of our students? I think this conversation is also worth having.

      As for your comment about test scores and income areas, I know that this is often true, but I can’t help but think about what I learned about in university: a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is this partially what’s happening here? Do we believe that certain groups of students will never achieve above a certain level, and without even realizing so, do we make this the reality? This might not be the case, but I’d like to believe that teachers really can make a difference. I want to believe that income is not the only thing that determines success. I’ve heard all of the statistics, so am I deceiving myself to think otherwise? What experiences have others had?

      There’s so much to think about …

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