Testing the limits of an education system’s commitment

In the face of a cyber attack on an Ontario literacy test, a teachers' union casts doubt on the entire notion of standardized testing

Maddie Di MuccioStandardized testing is too important to allow a cyber attack – or a reluctant teachers’ union – to derail it.

A major denial-of-service hack recently disrupted Twitter, Spotify, Netflix and the New York Times web services, among others. The complicated attack started in Asia, using unsecure routers and webcams. A Twitter account affiliated with the hacker group Anonymous claimed responsibility.

A day earlier, more than 150,000 Ontario high school students were affected by what the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) called “an intentional, malicious, and sustained cyber attack.”

Although no one has yet claimed responsibility for the Ontario attack, the results were similar to the Anonymous hack. The attackers bombarded the EQAO servers with billions of bits of useless data. Unable to distinguish between legitimate users and the attack data, the EQAO servers simply failed to allow most students to connect on time.

The students were attempting to log into the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT). Normally, these tests are conducted in March each year. They are mandatory for all Grade 10 students in government-run schools.

New for this school term was an opportunity to take the OSSLT online and early. Approximately 900 secondary schools participated in this pilot project.

My son was among the students who took the OSSLT. From him, I received firsthand accounts of how frustrated students were after repeated failed attempts to log in and complete the test. He said the teachers supervising the tests and school administrators did an excellent job keeping the stress and anxiety levels in check.

But the reaction of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) wasn’t as well measured. It issued a media release calling for a revamping of the OSSLT testing regime. The teachers’ union questions the value of the OSSLT and is using the cyber attack to undermine the entire notion of standardized testing.

It’s an overreaction by the union that frankly doesn’t make sense.

By way of comparison, when Netflix was shut down by a cyber attack a day later, nobody used the issue as an opportunity to say that online movies are bad. There were no calls to end online shopping when Amazon fell victim in the same attack. So why is the teachers’ union attempting to use this argument with regard to the OSSLT and other standardized testing?

Using a cyber attack to bolster the union’s case for doing away with all standardized testing by the Education Quality and Accountability Office is silly.

Like all Canadians, Ontario taxpayers pay a high price to educate the next generation. We expect results for our investment in the system. The only way we know the system is achieving certain benchmarks in literacy or mathematics skills, for example, is through standardized testing.

The Ontario government must make certain that every possible measure is taken to ensure there are no further interruptions when students attempt to take the test again in March 2017. Another cyber attack or any other interruption would severely undermine the credibility of the Education Quality and Accountability Office and the standardized testing that the EQAO administers.

And, most importantly, it’s essential that the teachers’ union supports the need for these tests in an effort to ensure that Ontario students get the education they deserve.

Maddie Di Muccio is a former town councillor in Newmarket, Ont., and former columnist with the Toronto Sun.

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Maddie Di Muccio

Maddie Di Muccio

Troy Media columnist Maddie Di Muccio is a former town councillor in Newmarket, Ont., and former columnist with the Toronto Sun. Often appearing on talk radio and TV, she focuses on educational and political reform. 

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