I recently spoke to several reporters about the latest Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) standardized test results from Ontario government-run schools, along with Fraser Institute findings that these schools weren’t doing enough to improve the quality of education children receive. The Fraser Institute compared current test results with those from previous years and found that most schools hadn’t improved.
The response from teachers and union leaders to my comments came fast and furious. Predictably, most oppose any form of standardized testing. They argue that these tests only tell us where the most affluent neighbourhoods are. They insist tests don’t provide any other useful and actionable information.
If teachers feel that lower-income neighbourhoods get the lowest test scores, why aren’t resources directed toward improving the quality of the education there? Case in point: in January, the Toronto District School Board was found to be redirecting $61 million in grants earmarked for low-income, at-risk students to other projects. The teachers have been mostly mum on this scandal.
EQAO testing isn’t cheap. Ontarians spend $30 million annually to administer these standardized tests to children in Grades 3, 6, 9 and 10. The tests gauge reading, writing and mathematics comprehension. EQAO is the only metric available to show parents that children receive quality education.
When the results are seemingly ignored – when educators haven’t brought about year-over-year improvements – then parents should demand action. Underperforming schools shouldn’t be allowed to remain in the academic doldrums.
There are a number of actions principals, school boards and the provincial government can take to turn underperforming schools around.
The first strategy would be to hold school boards accountable for results. If a school underperforms year after year, the province should appoint its own administrator to replace the school board’s. The new administrator would be tasked with achieving better results for the benefit of the children.
This would highlight the dismal record of certain elected school board trustees for voters. These trustees would then be held accountable by parents for the results of local schools.
The next step is to attach conditions to future provincial grants to school boards. Boards now receive Learning Opportunities grants with no strings attached. The province needs to ask how this money will help at-risk and lower-income students. And it should demand tangible results for every dollar spent.
To encourage principals to seek better results, parents need to be free to move their children from underperforming schools to better schools of their choice within the same school district. If that means enrolment drops below two-thirds capacity at an underperforming school, thereby risking the closure of the school, then enrolment concerns should motivate for better performance.
Finally, teachers who have track records of improving standardized testing results year over year should be recognized and rewarded. Excellence in public education requires excellent teachers.
Canadians are among the global leaders in public education investment. Our teachers are among the highest paid in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations. Taxpayers should expect the best return on their investment.
When we see underwhelming results from public schools – a trend over a number of years – we shouldn’t demand an end to the only tool we have to measure results. EQAO was implemented in Ontario in 1996 to hold school boards and administrators to account.
It’s time the province stepped in and addressed the issues highlighted by the test results.
Maddie Di Muccio is a former town councillor in Newmarket, Ont., and former columnist with the Toronto Sun.