In 2016, President Greg Weiler sent a letter to the Waterloo Region Record pushing back on Columnist Luisa D’Amato’s narrow view of student achievement. It’s a couple of years old but still very relevant to the discussion at hand as results of the Grade 3,6,9 and OSSLT were released this week. It’s time to scrap this test and let those who know children best, their educators, report on achievement.
Letter to the editor: Standardized school tests have little value
OPINION Mar 15, 2016 by Greg Weiler Waterloo Region Record
I must respond to Luisa D'Amato's March 11 column, "Plan to raise student achievement is weak."
The view of student achievement as simply a score on a standardized test, as espoused by D'Amato, is symbolic of all that is wrong in classrooms across the province — it places no value on anything but the narrowest of indicators from the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) tests.
Standardized tests like those by EQAO measure very limited things, and measure them poorly, because there is no similarly easy way to measure the myriad other (and more important) outcomes of schooling. One thing Education Quality and Accountability Office tests are exceptionally good at measuring is socioeconomic status.
When you ask parents what they want their children to get out of school, "higher EQAO scores" is not an answer you will hear.
As parents, we want our children to be happy at school, to learn, to grow and reach their potential in order to become active, engaged citizens that contribute to a better society. We want our children to learn social skills, critical thinking skills, to be active physically, to discover what they are passionate about, and to gain exposure to experiences and ideas they might otherwise not be exposed to.
There is no group out there opposed to achievement in literacy or math, despite what D'Amato seems to believe. There are people who see education as being about more than Education Quality and Accountability Office tests, and people that have seen how this narrow focus is destructive to almost everything else which we should value in schools. There is and can be both high achievement and accountability in education without standardized testing.
When all we care about is this narrow measurement, all efforts and resources go into improving a score and our schools and our kids suffer. It is not enough to say we also value music, art, history, geography, physical education, science, and French. That value isn't being demonstrated or supported by the resources, time, or the funding that is put into them, and it isn't put into them because the outcomes aren't measured on an EQAO test. This is not a Waterloo Region District School Board issue, but a provincial issue.
As long as we buy in to Education Quality and Accountability Office tests as the measurement that matters, we have prejudged many of our students as failures, and we have dismissed the amazing things they achieve. You don't have to be a trained educator to know and understand that children progress at different rates, learn in different ways, and excel in different areas. EQAO tests and the fetishization of test scores promote the worst kind of standardization — that which works against students and promotes a distorted view of them and their learning.
This distorted and oversimplified picture is easily used by anyone, like D'Amato, to "prove" there is a crisis in education without ever having to actually step into a school. It promotes an artificial, competitive view of education. The data from the Education Quality and Accountability Office tests have done nothing to actually improve learning or positively affect any student, ever.
Ignoring the real issues in schools and focusing narrowly on EQAO scores is what is "ripping off" students. School boards and trustees are and should be focused on ensuring better outcomes for all students by advocating for improvements that will have both immediate and lasting impacts. Waterloo Region District School Board Trustee Mike Ramsay's embarrassment should be about how much need there exists in areas that are not and cannot be measured by EQAO tests and that require visits to actual classrooms to observe.
Smaller classes, meaningful assessments, more specialist teachers and, most importantly, more resources for students with special needs are all areas that need attention. These are things that impact on student achievement and well-being in all areas, day in and day out.
We are always seemingly just a few years behind whatever educational trend the United States adopts. The recent and ongoing backlash against standardized testing there which has seen thousands of students and parents opt out of the testing will hopefully arrive here soon as well.
I encourage parents to have their child opt out of EQAO testing. A message needs to be sent about what we truly value in education.
The money and time spent on standardized testing can be much better used to provide real supports to students.