Friday, October 1, 2010

'Crazy, crazy over-emphasis on these results'

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Peter Giuliani, president of the Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Teachers' Federation, says many teachers in the public school system worry about being assigned Grades 3 or 6 -- grades in which Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) tests are administered -- because of the heavy focus on results.

"The real stress lies in the crazy, crazy over-emphasis on these results and how it permeates every aspect of school improvement," he said.

"You don't want to feel like you're the person who was responsible for it."

Giuliani said he often hears proponents suggest that EQAO results are only one measure of student progress, yet he points out that the results are often used to drive everything from school-improvement plans and school-board initiatives to the agenda of the province's Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat and real-estate sales.

The results are also widely published, placing a "tremendous" responsibility on teachers, even though the tests fall at the ends of the primary, junior and intermediate divisions and don't reflect the work of just one person. "Because you are holding the bag as a teacher that year, a lot of teachers feel a tremendous amount of pressure and it's not something they can control," Giuliani said.

There are many teachers who might have taught Grades 3 or 6 in the past and would enjoy teaching those grades again, but avoid doing so because of the EQAO tests, he added.

The provincial testing authority is overhauling its 17-page assessment guide for teachers and principals after 10 Ontario schools had their EQAO results withheld because some teachers broke the rules by providing students with questions beforehand, photocopying the previous year's tests or providing resource materials such as dictionaries.

Bernard-Grandmaître, a French Catholic elementary school in Riverside South, is one of the 10 schools.

EQAO's chief assessment officer says the revised guide will draw people's attention to the dos and don'ts.

"My suspicion was, and perhaps it's been borne out by what's happened, that fewer and fewer people were reading the guide," Marie Parsons said. "When you don't read the guide, you can more easily make errors."

The guide will now include a checklist on how to administer the annual tests. Among other things, the checklist will tell teachers whether a calculator is allowed on the math test, inform them they can't read passages aloud on the reading test and clarify when dictionaries can and can't be used.

Parsons says the clearer instructions should give teachers fewer excuses to say they were not aware of the rules.

Still, the former public-school superintendent acknowledged the stress the tests can cause.

"There probably is a heightened anxiety level," she said, adding the EQAO does not endorse many of the ways its results are used. "We don't support using the results to rank schools and sell real estate."

Parsons said the measures to catch cheaters are more rigorous than in other provinces, but EQAO does rely on an honour system when it comes to teachers who deliberately or unintentionally break the rules.

This year's problems were discovered through calls to an EQAO tips line or the schools themselves admitting there had been problems with the testing.

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