Ont. schools accused of cheating on standardized tests

Incidences of cheating and irregularities in standardized testing of students have been found at 10 Ontario schools, the agency that designs the tests said.

Testing agency finds irregularities at 10 schools

Incidences of cheating and irregularities in standardized testing of students have been found at 10 Ontario schools, the Education Quality and Accountability Office said.

The EQAO is an independent agency funded by the province that designs, distributes and assesses math, reading and writing tests annually for Grades 3, 6 and 9.

The agency says it has found blatant cheating at some of the 10 schools and glaring irregularities at others.

Agency CEO Margeurite Jackson said some teachers peeked at the tests before they were supposed to and gave students the questions ahead of time.

"Guidelines were not followed," she said. "The booklets are not to be opened before the day of administration."

The schools where irregularities were found in the administration of the tests are: 

  • Bernard-Grandmaître elementary in Ottawa.
  • Sanford Avenue in Hamilton.
  • Notre Dame Catholic Separate School in Windsor.
  • St. Peter's Secondary School in Peterborough.
  • Graham Bell-Victoria Public School in Brantford.
  • Waterford Public School in Waterford.
  • École Catholique St-Louis in Hearst.
  • Ontario Street Public School in Bowmanville.
  • Quaker Village Public School in Uxbridge.

EQAO did not release the name of the 10th school, saying the investigation there was ongoing.

Educators suspended in past years

Ever since the tests were first introduced in 2001, the EQAO has faced similar issues when it comes to how the test is administered. Teachers, principals and one school superintendent have all been suspended in the past for what the agency has deemed to be irregularities or cheating.

Their transgressions have included opening sealed questions, reviewing answers and inviting children back to complete unanswered questions.

One of the irregularities identified this year occurred at Notre Dame Catholic Separate School in Windsor. The EQAO found that all of the students in one of the school's Grade 3 classes scored exceptionally high on the writing portion of the exam — a result the agency considered suspect.

"It could mean any number of things," said Cathy Geml, superintendent of education at the Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board. "It could mean the children were given some forewarning as far as some of the wording on the test. It could mean they were given some prompts.

"It's the integrity of the test itself and the way it was administered [that's in question]."

Tests 'student unfriendly': teachers group

Geml told CBC News that EQAO is only one of several tools the school uses to assess students.

"It does not affect their report card data," she said. "It does not affect their educational career."

Geml said the teacher of the class in question is no longer teaching at the Grade 3 level.

"My first concern is with the … [teachers], because allegations of cheating do go to the Ontario college of teachers, and that has ramifications on their professional careers," said James Ryan, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.

The instructions on how the EQAO tests are to be administered are clearly outlined, Ryan said, but differ from how most teachers usually work. As a result, teachers tend to answer students who ask for clarification during testing.

"In the case of EQAO, there is very limited help that teachers can provide ... and it's quite student unfriendly," said Ryan.

Overall, the tests create a stressful environment in schools, he said.

"The EQAO creates a situation where the [Education] Ministry puts pressure on school boards, school boards put pressure on principals, and principals, in turn, put pressure on teachers," said Ryan. "So, there is an incredible climate of pressure put on the teachers."

In previous years, the number of schools investigated has ranged from one to 14, an EQAO spokesperson said.

Advocate has sympathy for teachers

Annie Kidder, of the advocacy group People for Education, says cheating by teachers sends a horrible message to students and can't be condoned.

But she said she has some sympathy for teachers who must administer the one-size-fits-all test, especially those at schools with large numbers of students with learning difficulties or for whom English is a second language.

Meanwhile, Premier Dalton McGuinty told the Canadian Press that he still has faith in standardized testing and that there is no excuse for teachers to break the rules.

With files from The Canadian Press