March 2016: Media release re. Fraser Institute Reports
Immediate Release: March 4, 2016
2016 Fraser Institute Report Card Has Limited Use for School Improvement Purposes
(Brockville) – Upper Canada District School Board Director of Education Stephen Sliwa has released the following statement in response to the Fraser Institute’s Report Card on Ontario’s Secondary Schools 2016:
“Our board remains open to any data or study that provides information leading to improvements in our schools. The most valuable information that supports student learning is derived from the regular and ongoing assessments conducted by teachers and principals, as well as that furnished directly by the EQAO and other district-wide assessments. The ranking of schools, on a comparative basis, does not offer a precise understanding of exactly where improvement efforts should be directed and, as such, is regarded by our staff as having limited use.
“It is more accountable and useful to use data that measures achievement on a student-by-student basis. Our school board and schools have adopted a vigorous improvement planning process based on provincial assessment results, and through surveys administered at the district and school level. These practices allow the board and our schools to direct attention and resources to student learning needs.
“Any process that ranks schools, such as the Fraser Institute’s report, projects an unrealistic impression about student achievement and the needs of schools, and certainly falls short of acknowledging gains in student learning that result from the intentional efforts of our schools and district.”
For more information, please call:
Interim Manager of Communications
Upper Canada District School Board
613-342-0371 ext. 1260
My response to the Fraser Institute Reports - Letter to the Editor
Reflections on the recent Fraser Institute rankings:
The following thoughts are mine alone and may or may not reflect the official position of the Upper Canada District School Board; however, as a Trustee for several of the schools mentioned, there is an untold story and I feel it is incumbent upon me to tell one in particular.
This issue is not really about the validity and value of standardized testing as conducted yearly by the administration of a series of tests to our students by EQAO (Education Equality and Accountability Office); rather, it concerns the credibility of the Fraser Institute’s Report Card which ranks schools in this province and country which has been called into question by such individuals and organizations as Action Canada and Dr. Joel Westheimer.
Action Canada has called for a timely and urgent review of standardized testing in Canada.
Dr. Westheimer has tweeted: “Right-Leaning Fraser Institute rankings are "dangerous." Parents, educators, students should ignore. “
What is EQAO testing? It is a standardized test given to Grades 3, 6 and 9 students on the same day in May throughout the province. The tests sample only a small range of student knowledge and skills at one point in time using a pen and pencil type test. The test purports to give parents, teachers, principals and school boards information about how well students have learned the prescribed curriculum in literacy and numeracy.
While the tests are based on the Ontario curriculum, they are not based on the teaching methodology prescribed and encouraged by the Ministry of Education such as collaborative, project and inquiry-based learning. This testing does not reflect the higher order skills such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and entrepreneurship. Students are not engaged in these tests. Questions such as the following persist:
What do the tests mean to the success of an individual student? Nothing.
Do they assist individual students? No.
Is there a follow-up for individual students after the test? No.
Does EQAO testing affect grades and future student success and students’ future careers? No.
Is there immediate feedback? No. The lag time is six months or more.
Do boards of education and schools use the EQAO results? Most certainly. Individual schools analyze strengths and weaknesses and implement strategies to improve teaching and learning with the goal of measuring improvements.
Could this goal be accomplished more strategically and economically? You bet!
Dr. Joel Westheimer and his team at the University of Ottawa have exposed a blatant weakness which he explains:
“My concern stems from what colleagues and I have found. Almost every school mission statement these days boasts broad goals related to critical thinking, global citizenship, environmental stewardship, and moral character. Yet beneath the rhetoric, increasingly narrow curriculum goals, accountability measures, and standardized testing have reduced too many classroom lessons to the cold, stark pursuit of information and skills without context and without social meaning – what education philosopher Maxine Greene calls “mean and repellent facts”.1It is not, as I will explain shortly, that facts are bad or that they should be ignored. But democratic societies require more than citizens who are fact-full. They require citizens who can think. If we are to take education’s democratic goals seriously, then we need the kinds of classroom practices that teach students to recognize ambiguity and conflict in “factual” content, to see human conditions and aspirations as complex and contested, and to embrace debate and deliberation as cornerstones of democratic societies.”
Their work suggests strongly that testing scores provide a very narrow view of any given school in favour of critical issues which DO illustrate "a good school". The ranking of schools by the Fraser Institute illustrates a bias towards unrelated factors, i.e. socio-economic, language, special needs and home conditions. This process neglects to appreciate more critical factors such as the school-community relationships, the active role of staff and parents in students' lives, the innovative teaching and learning which is occurring on an on-going basis, the sense of community support via BBQ's, fundraising, the involvement of parents, relatives, friends and businesses. I could point to so many great events in each of our schools which the Fraser Institute does not begin to assess.
EQAO testing is what it is. My concern is with the Report Card of the Fraser Institute and its use of this standardized testing information to rate and rank schools arbitrarily. One of the stated goals by the Fraser Institute is: “Parents can use the school report cards to compare the academic performance of schools when choosing a school for their children.” Unfortunately, too many parents rely solely on this very public ranking.
Small schools are unique. The impact of an individual pass or fail is statistically more significant than in a larger school. For example, if 40 students write an EQAO assessment, then the results of each student are worth 2.5% of the aggregate mark. (40 X 2.5% = 100%). Some students who are identified with learning needs might not reach Provincial Standard even with as much accommodation and programming as a school can provide. 60% to 70% may be the best they can accomplish on a lengthy pen and paper assessment. The school is satisfied with their status, the students are content with their level and parents are happy with their progress as together the parties know each student very well and recognize their capabilities. Yet, that result could be 2.8 or 2.9 which is less than a 3.0 which is below the provincial standard. Additionally, the problem with any test taken one time on one day is that a variety of external factors could affect the result. For example, bad day, family crisis, health concerns, disengagement and so on.
Other factors enter into the picture also. Because of its safe and welcoming environment, Athens DHS attracts a large number of International students who are typically English Language Learners. These students must also write the EQAO assessment during their first year in Canada.
This is not to say that the school does not encourage all 40 students to meet Provincial standard – that is a major goal and the status quo in not acceptable. The school is always seeking to celebrate success for each student based on their individual capabilities. In my experience, that is a school commitment!
The UCDSB has identified sixteen characteristics of a high-performing school most of which the Fraser Institute’s rankings do not measure:
High expectations for all students and staff.
Caring and respectful environments where adults respect students.
Adult relationships in the school are positive and are focused on student results.
Principal is the instructional leader.
Character Education is embedded into curriculum, pedagogy and culture of the school and it is modeled by the adults in the building.
Strategic and targeted professional learning for all staff to strengthen instructional effectiveness.
A strong culture of accountability.
Use of School Improvement Planning process.
Alignment of school budget with school success plan.
EQAO is embraced as one meaningful data/information source.
Data driven decision making.
Systematic monitoring of student progress.
Assessment driven instruction.
High levels of parental and community engagement.
Effective large uninterrupted blocks of time.
Flexible and responsive grouping of students for instruction
The real test is to take the time and make the effort to visit your school, speak to staff, dialogue with your children and see what is happening for yourself. Ask to see the School Success Plan. How is it being implemented? Attend a School/Parent Advisory meeting. How engaged are the students in their school’s activities? (always a good omen for student success). This kind of involvement will provide parents with a far better view of your community school than any standardized test score or any analysis of this score by a remote "think tank".
Athens District High School placed poorly in the most recent provincial rankings by the Fraser Institute. However, let’s take a closer look using a different lens. My nine indicators (personal and arbitrary) of any good school include the following with examples unique to ADHS:
Are creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship promoted?
Intermediate students participated in their first ever school Science Fair. From this event, 16 students including 9 displays advanced to the Rideau St. Lawrence regional event.
ADHS students are involved in the ICE (Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship) Challenge involving a “Dragon’s Den” presentation. Intermediate students are preparing a proposal for a mini-greenhouse and Secondary Students are involved in product prototypes.
Is there a good variety of extra and intra-curricular activities?
Students hosted a two-day basketball tournament for Grades 5 & 6 students.
A variety of sports and clubs exist 7 to 12.
Is there an active Parent Council?
Yes indeed. This supportive group of parents promotes, advocates and funds many initiatives.
“Mind, Body and Soul” is sponsored jointly by ADHS, Meadowview and Pineview Public Schools. This is an evening of 12 interactive workshops for students and parents.
I am told that Ladies Night, another fundraiser, was hugely successful.
Do teachers, educational assistants and support staff communicate regularly with parents?
ADHS has a very active Facebook page with over 400 followers.
Do students feel safe, included and respected by staff and peers?
Students complete annually the TTFM (Tell Them From Me) survey. The results are analyzed by staff and students and several student focus groups are underway.
The Link Crew (Gr. 11 and 12 students mentor Gr. 9 students) and the Web Team (Gr. 8 and 10 students mentor Gr. 7 students) are active.
Is the community involved in the activities of the school and visa versa?
The ADHS students are remarkable for their organization of and respectful behavior at the annual Remembrance Day ceremony lead by Parliament.
ADHS is organizing an Arts and Music Festival in the Park with proceeds going to the Athens Library.
ADHS is supporting the Athens and District Heritage Society at the unveiling of the plaque commemorating the educational richness of the Athens community.
ADHS is celebrating Earth Day with a community clean-up.
Does the school celebrate its own uniqueness?
The Country Fair, an annual Fall school event featuring tractors, skill tests, music, games and much more.
Student transportation is unique in that snowmobiles are welcome.
An annual overnight fishing trip is conducted by staff.
The two Specialist High School Major courses feature a) the Environment and b) Justice, Community Safety & Emergency Services which include life-long certification skills.
ADHS is a small but proud school.
Are students engaged in their learning?
Low absenteeism and truancy rates and a high graduation rate goals.
Is excellence expected and rewarded??
The annual Awards Assembly was held on April 2nd when proficiency awards were presented to over 60 students. The Honour Roll students in each grade were recognized: Gr. 9 (11); Gr. 10 (11); Gr. 11 (20) and Gr. 12 (13). Staff members were overwhelmed by the community and parental turnout.
The Athens community possesses a rich historical background in education dating back to the first elementary school (Farmersville P.S.) in the area in 1860. Athens District High School was the first high school in a wide area. In 1877, the first United Counties Model School (training school for teachers) was inaugurated. The focal point of the community was and is the Joshua Bates Center opened officially by Sir Wilfred Laurier in 1905. In 1947, the School Parliament (Student Council) was initiated and that tradition still vibrates richly today. The first woman to be elected to a legislature in the British Empire, Louise McKinney, was a native of the Athens area.
A beautiful informative plaque provided by the Athens and District Heritage Society will be unveiled officially on May 14th at 6:00 P.M. followed by the ADHS Coffee House and Talent Evening. The tradition of commitment to education continues.
My concluding remarks simply reinforce the fact that neither standardized testing nor a private think tank’s interpretation of the results should be the sole determining factor in the selection of a school for one’s child. The story of Athens District High School which I have tried to paint is a proud and successful one which I could repeat for each of the schools in Ward 4. In fact, every school in this province is unique in its own way.
Let’s continue to celebrate, promote and build upon (and yes, improve) the successes of public education in this Board, this province and this country of ours, Canada.
Trustee, Ward 4,
Upper Canada District School Board613-213-4094
EQAO Testing and the Fraser Institute's slanted analysis:
The article below published in the Ottawa Citizen on Monday, March 18th, 2011 illustrates a flaw in the commonly-accepted analysis by the Fraser Institute of the standardized testing scores by EQAO.
Professor Joel Westheimer and his team of researchers have exposed a blatant weakness. Their work suggests strongly that testing scores provide a very narrow view of any given school in favour of critical issues which DO illustrate "a good school". The ranking of schools by the Fraser Institute illustrates a bias in favour of unrelated factors, i.e. socio-economic, language, special needs and home conditions. This process neglects to appreciate more critical factors such as the school-community relationships, the active role of staff in students' lives, the innovative teaching and learning which is occurring on an on-going basis, the sense of community support via BBQ's, fundraising, the involvement of parents, relatives, friends and businesses. I could point to so many great events in each of our schools which the Fraser Institute does not begin to assess.
The real test is to take the time and make the effort to visit your school, speak to staff, dialogue with your children and see what is happening for yourself. This kind of involvement will provide you with a far better view of your community school than any standardized test score or any analysis of this score by a remote "think tank" .
For more information, call 416-534-0100 or email:firstname.lastname@example.org
© People for Education 2009
What is the EQAO and why are students tested?
The EQAO is the provincial Education Equality and Accountability Office. It is an independent government body that develops and oversees reading, writing and mathematics tests that Ontario students must take in Grades 3, 6, 9, and 10.
The tests give parents, teachers, principals and school boards information about how well students have learned what the province expects them to learn in reading, writing and mathematics.
What do the results mean?
The report tells you if your child’s skills are at:
Level 1 - approximately 50% to 59% or "D"
Level 2 - 60% to 69% or "C"
Level 3 - 70% to 79% or "B"
Level 4 - 80% to 100% or "A"
Students writing the grade 10 literacy test will receive a pass/fail grade.
Do the results count on students’ report cards?
The grades 3 and 6 tests do not count as part of a student’s mark and do not affect their progress or future opportunities in school. The grade 9 math test can count for up to 10% of the student’s math mark. However, students must pass the Grade 10 Literacy Test or Literacy course in order to graduate with an Ontario Secondary School Diploma.
How can I help my child prepare?
There is no special preparation for the tests. Some teachers provide sample questions to help students understand what the tests will be like. The best way to help your child is to make sure he or she is rested and at school on time.
Do ESL students write the tests?
Yes, although some ESL students may be exempt if they have recently arrived in Canada. Others may have "accommodations" such as more time to write the test, a quiet setting or having someone read instructions and questions. The principal must consult with parents about making accommodations or exempting a student from the test.
Do students with special needs write the tests?
All students are encouraged to write the test but some students with special needs may be exempt. These students usually have Individual Education Plans (IEPs) that outline "accommodations" or "supports" that help them succeed in school. The "accommodations" also help students write the EQAO tests. They may include more time to write, a quiet setting or having someone read instructions or questions to them.
The principal must consult with parents about making accommodations or exempting a student from the test.
Do French Immersion students write the test?
In grade 3, schools may choose to have French Immersion students write only the French version of the mathematics test and receive results only for mathematics, or they may ask that French Immersion students write both the French math test and the English reading and writing tests.
In Grade 6, French Immersion students are expected to write all the tests in English, though they may use a bilingual glossary of mathematical terms.
How are test results used?
Teachers and principals get a report that shows how students performed in reading, writing and mathematics. If many students did poorly on a particular
Understanding Standardized Testing
By Lisa Fernandes • September 3, 2010
Standardized tests, such as Ontario's EQAO tests, are used to compare the instruction and performance of students, schools, and school boards. When used appropriately, standardized testing can give a good picture of a student's strengths and weaknesses and can inform instructional strategies and policies. However, some people question what the tests are actually measuring and how authentic and informative these tests are.
Some Problems with Standardized Testing
Many say the tests often sample only a small range of student knowledge and skills at one point in time. A child's literacy, although multi-faceted, is often only assessed by a reading and writing with a paper and pencil test and the results are used as an indicator of a child's overall literacy level.
Both parents and teachers have reported that preparing for the EQAO tests produce anxiety in students, which then impacts their test-taking ability.
Schools that score above average are acclaimed for the effectiveness of their instruction whereas below-average schools are strongly encouraged to improve their performance the next time around. The "competition" that results from the publication of EQAO results and school rankings has led to administrators who implement policies designed to raise test scores.
Teachers and schools are blamed for poor test results, which are often made public both online and in the press. Teachers are pressured to improve their students' performance on the tests so they "teach to the test". They spend curriculum time on test content. Using test sample questions, students practice answering questions to maximize their scores. Does this improve EQAO scores? Maybe, but it doesn't improve student learning.
Why are these tests important?
Despite the shortcomings of standardized tests, they seem to be regarded as one of the most important assessment tools for measuring academic performance. Those who support the use of standardized tests argue they make schools more accountable and allow meaningful comparisions of all students, schools and school boards.
Are standardized tests better indicators of student performance than a diverse group of assessment practices?
In the end, standardized tests provide different information. A standardized test is essentially a snapshot in time using one method of assessment. Teachers assess their students using a broad range of tools. A more holistic and complete picture of a student's performance can be seen from various types of assessment that the teacher does throughout the year. Many educators believe that if educational decision-making is based on a teacher's year long assessments of students, rather than one standardized test, improvements in student learning will be achieved.
Don't use your child's EQAO test scores to measure overall achievement. You're better off relying on regular contact with the teacher who can show you your child's portfolio, which is being updated all year long. You'll have a more clear and accurate picture of your child's progress.
EQAO Testing: What is it?
By Lisa Fernandes • April 30, 2010
EQAO tests don”t affect grades or future career paths, so stop stressing!
EQAO stands for Education Quality and Accountability Office. It is the provincial agency that designs and tests Grade 3 and Grade 6 students in reading, writing and mathematics. (Grade 9 students are tested in mathematics and Grade 10 students are given a literacy test.)
The EQAO tests give parents, teachers, principals and school boards information about how well students have learned the Ontario curriculum in reading, writing and mathematics. However, some critics say there is pressure on school administrators and teachers to prepare students too early for these tests. This can lead to some panic on the part of parents. Read more on Understanding Standardized Testing.
Here are some questions that will help parents understand what EQAO tests mean to them:
What do the different levels mean for students' achievement?
Level 1 means their skills fall below the provincial standard.
Level 2 means they are close to meeting the provincial standard.
Level 3 means they are at the provincial standard.
Level 4 means they have surpassed the provincial standard.
What is the provincial standard based on?
The provincial standard is based upon the Ontario Curriculum for students in grades 3 and 6. The curriculum tells us where they should be at each level in their education. If your child isnâ€™t working at the level they should be, EQAO testing can tell you and teachers what subjects to concentrate on.
How do teachers use this information?
Teachers can adjust their teaching strategies or resources if many students did poorly on a particular subject. If students across several schools have the same difficulties, then the school boards may wish to look at where training is falling short.
How will this affect my child?
The tests do not count as part of a studentâ€™s mark and do not affect their progress or future in school. (But students must pass the Grade 10 Literacy Test or Literacy course in order to graduate with an Ontario Secondary School Diploma.)
What if my child has special needs?
Students with special needs and some others may receive special accommodations to help them with the tests. In some cases, certain students may be exempt.
How do schools prepare students?
Different school boards, schools and teachers have different initiatives to prepare their students for the EQAO test. Many have specialized teachers who deal solely with literacy issues. Check with your local school board to find out what policies and programs are in place. Classroom teachers are typically helping to prepare their students for the test. Some schools have taken the initiative to develop partnerships with other schools to prepare students. For example, check out an amazing program where under-priveledged students are paired with older mentor students from an upper class private school (see Resources section).
How can I help my child at home?
There is no special preparation for the tests because they are testing skills in reading, comprehension and writing that have been built up over time. Be sure to check out tips you can use to help your child put their best foot forward. You can also use this tip sheet which is available in various languages.
What does my child need to know?
For reading/comprehension, kids should be able to understand the ideas behind the words and relate that to their own lives. For the writing portion, kids should be able to focus on a main idea, explain it and organize their own added ideas using proper tone, grammar and spelling.
Remember: Your child's teacher is your ally. If you have serious concerns, make an appointment to discuss them with him/her.