Report recommends phasing out Ontario's standardized tests

A government-commissioned report recommends substantial changes to standardized testing across Ontario.

Province should do away with Grade 3, Grade 9 tests, government commissioned report says

Students across Ontario start their EQAO testing in Grade 3. (Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty Images)

A government-commissioned report recommends substantial changes to standardized testing across Ontario.

The report, led by professor Carol Campbell from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, was released Tuesday.

It recommends phasing out the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) tests for Grade 3 and Grade 9 students.

It also recommends an overhaul of the standardized Grade 6 test and an end to the literacy test Grade 10 students need to pass in order to graduate, replacing it with another test that would not be a diploma requirement. 

More than 5,000 people, including parents, educators, students and community members, were consulted during an independent review of the province's education assessment process, according to the Ministry of Education website. 

"There was a strong consensus about the need for changes in EQAO assessments," the website reads. 

"There is a high level of concern about the current nature and impact of EQAO assessments given commitments to student equity and minimizing undesirable indirect effects of assessments on students' learning and well-being."

'Change curriculum first'

Annie Kidder, executive director of the non-profit People for Education, told CBC's Ontario Morning scores on reading, writing and math are important, but she hopes student assessments can tell the public a lot more than that.

There's been too much focus on test score targets, without considering other areas that build competencies and skills, like geography, history and social sciences, Kidder noted.

Before we even think about how they're taught, we need to think about what do we want to be teaching them.- Annie Kidder

"And the impact has been we've kind of narrowed our definition of education just down to the results of those tests." 

But improving learning in school shouldn't start with looking at how students are assessed, Kidder said.  

"The order is problematic here. Before we even think about how they're taught, we need to think about what do we want to be teaching them," she said.

"We still have curriculum that may be kind of stuck in an old pattern, hasn't been renewed for a long time. So … how can we change the curriculum first?"

EQAO concerns

The EQAO's CEO Norah Marsh said in an interview with Ontario Morning that some of the recommendations in the report — such as more flexibility in the timing of assessments and looking at a more personalized approach — are welcome, since the agency is already going through its own process of "modernization."

But Marsh said the agency is very concerned about the report's recommendation to do away with Grade 3 testing.

It's worried about missing out on identifying vulnerable students and getting supports in place early, she said.

The Ministry of Education held a public meetings over several months in Ottawa, Barrie, Sudbury, Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto and Thunder Bay looking for input on how to improve student assessments, like the EQAO test. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

"One of the things that I think the legacies of EQAO is … [what] we've done to assist educators in identifying where more support was required," Marsh said.

"We know the earlier that students are identified and supported and their literacy rates increase, the more likely it is that they'll have less learning challenges throughout their life."

The EQAO was created in 1996 and manages large scale assessments in reading, writing and math.

It provides results and reports of the testing to students, schools and school boards, with the intention of the data being used to improve student learning.  

In response to the report released this week, Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris said her ministry will determine the future of EQAO tests after consulting with parents, teachers and others in the school system.