Thursday, October 21, 2010

Election Platform Aims to Put Focus Back on Education, Not Ineffective Testing

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Election platform aims to put focus back on education, not ineffective testing

Ontario teachers are tired of feeding government's insatiable appetite for evidence that its top-down initiatives are working.

In anticipation of the October 2011 provincial election, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has prepared an education platform

ETFO, which represents more than 76,000 education workers, believes the system can do a better job of addressing the learning needs of diverse student population and ensuring that graduating students are well-prepared for higher education, training, and citizenship. "Strengthening the education system will contribute to a healthy, vibrant society in the future," writes ETFO President Sam Hammond.

A top issue for ETFO is a standardized testing and how this deprives more important educational priorities of needed resources.

ETFO says that current Liberal government has focused on increasing the achievement levels in literacy and numeracy as measured by the grade 3 and 6 tests administered by the Educational Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO). "The political imperative to see 75 percent of grade 6 students achieving an above average level 3 in these tests has led to a disproportionate amount of classroom time and resources being allocated to teaching literacy and numeracy."

Teachers, ETFO says, are spending increasing amounts of time collecting assessment data related to EQAO "to feed the government's insatiable appetite for evidence that its myriad top-down initiatives are leading to improved student test scores. Consequently, not all students receive a balanced curriculum that pays sufficient attention to social studies, science, the arts, or health and physical education. Scaling back on the literacy and numeracy assessment initiatives is the top concern identified by ETFO members."

There are alternatives. Finland, a top-performing nation on international assessments conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development uses random sample tests to occasionally check to see if its curriculum and teaching approaches are appropriate. Ontario should adopt the same approach, ETFO says.

"The most effective assessment of student progress is the assessment that teachers do every day in the classroom," the platform states. "If the government is truly interested in improving the levels of student success, it should put its focus on supporting teachers' skills in ongoing classroom assessment rather than on the limited measurement of EQAO tests."

Meanwhile, the number of specialist teachers at the elementary level has significantly declined since 1997-1998 as the result of a funding formula introduced by the Mike Harris Conservatives. Recent small increases in funding for specialist teachers "still leave elementary students significantly short-changed in terms of their access to quality programs in the arts and health and physical education," says ETFO.

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