Ontario teachers call for end to standardized tests, at least during pandemic

Teachers' unions are calling on the province to get rid of Ontario's standardized literacy tests, which is set to be administered online as a pilot project this year.

The Grade 10 Literacy test is a requirement for graduation from high school

Students have the option of taking an electronic version of the Grade 10 standardized test this year, just to test the platform. (Sofia Rodriguez/CBC)

Teachers' unions are calling on the province to get rid of Ontario's Grade 10 literacy test, which is set to be administered online as a pilot project this year. 

The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) tests are written in Grade 3, Grade 6, Grade 9 and Grade 10. 

The Grade 10 version tests literacy and is a usually a requirement for graduation, but that has been waived this year, as it was last year. 

"We've never been terribly supportive of of these standardized, high-stakes tests for our students to begin with, but there's simply no reasonable rationale to go ahead with this one, as it's already been determined that it will not count," said Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. 

"The only purpose in running the test this year seems to be to actually test the electronic platform itself, which, in a year in which students have struggled with the pandemic, lost days of face-to-face learning, to take time to test a platform, I can't begin to understand that from an educational perspective." 

Students in Grade 10, 11 and 12 can take the "field test" and, if successful, have it counted on their transcript, EQAO has said. 

They will also be taking the Grade 9 math assessment, also as a pilot. The elementary school tests have been cancelled for the year. Neither the Grade 9 or 10 test will count toward final grades, unless that's agreed to by the student, parents and teachers. 

The province's education ministry says it's committed to student success, even in an unprecedented school year.

"While COVID-19 has forced upon us many changes to our schools and our lives, some things remain constant – the importance of quality education, our collective mental health, and the safety of students and staff. We remain focused on students receiving the quality education they deserve," said Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce. 

"Field tests for the EQAO Grade 9, and the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test will take place – however results for these will not be used in the determination of a student's final mark unless agreed to by the teacher and student with the parent, and graduating students who are not able to complete the EQAO course successfully this year will be relieved of the burden of satisfying that requirement."

According to the EQAO, the purpose of the field literary test is to allow students and educators to become familiar with the new assessment model, and to support the validation and development of the new e-assessment platform. The test will be held between March 23 and June 4.

Students being used as 'guinea pigs'

The tests are available those who are doing school in-person, but those who are doing remote learning can ask their school board to come to class for a day to write the test. 

"The sooner they get rid of this kind of census-based, every-student standardized testing in the province, the better it," said Bischof. "It doesn't give students or educators or parents any real insight into anything about their learning. We would support abandoning this approach to testing entirely."

Asking students who are already in the high-stress situation of completing high school during a pandemic to write a standardized test simply to test a platform is questionable, said Parker Robinson, president of the Ontario Teachers' Federation. 

"We're in unique and ever-evolving circumstances with relation to the global pandemic. Families, students, educators and those who support students are feeling the stress in many aspects of their life. This pilot test has no educational value. Students and the educators who support them are being asked to be guinea pigs and that will add another layer of stress to an already challenging year." 

Now would be a good time to get rid of all the of the EQAO standardized tests, said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. The tests were not administered last year and won't be this year, either. 

"We as an organization, along with many educational experts, have called for some time for the elimination of this way of testing across the board, in Grade Three, in Grade Six and in high school," Hammond said. 

"They were cancelled last year, they've been cancelled before during bargaining and a work stoppage. The world didn't collapse. This is a waste of government money and it's a waste of time."