School test results raise red flag

Posted on August 27, 2009 in Education Debates – National – School test results raise red flag: One-third of Ontario’s elementary students not meeting provincial standards in reading, writing and math with many unable to catch up once they fall behind
Aug. 26, 2009.   Caroline Alphonso

About one-third of Ontario’s elementary school students are not meeting provincial standards in reading, writing and math – and once they fall behind, many have a hard time catching up, new test results show.

There was little movement year over year in standardized tests results released Wednesday by the Education Quality and Accountability Office, an arm’s-length agency of the Ontario government. But the sheer number of pupils still struggling with the 3 R’s presents an ongoing challenge for educators in helping students achieve basic literacy skills.

And it will put increased pressure on Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, who has cast himself as the education premier. His government has devoted more money to classrooms as he pushes for a target of 75 per cent of students meeting the provincial standard – a feat that won’t be easily achieved.

Almost 400,000 students in Grades 3, 6 and 9 took the test in the 2008-09 school year.

The EQAO will release a school-by-school breakdown of scores in mid-September. But Wednesday’s numbers provided a glimpse into the struggles ahead.

One in four students who did not meet the provincial standard, which is a B grade, in Grade 3 failed to catch up three years later. Further, almost half of the students who didn’t meet the provincial standard in Grade 6 math did poorly in the Grade 9 applied math, which is usually taught to those headed into the workplace or to community college.

“We still have work to do,” Marguerite Jackson, EQAO’s chief executive officer, said Wednesday. “… these are fundamental skill areas that are the foundation for children to be able to continue their journey through school and be able to continue their journey through life.”

Education Minister Kathleen Wynne acknowledged she was concerned by some of the results. But she said the government has measures in place to help students, which include lowering class sizes in the early years, putting more money into literacy and math coaches, and an ambitious plan that would integrate full-day kindergarten and childcare programs for Ontario’s four- and five-year-olds.

“Are there still issues that we still need to be concerned about? For sure. But are more kids every year meeting the standard? Yes,” Ms. Wynne said in an interview.

Students have different skills when they enter the classroom, and the EQAO results reflect that not all have the same readiness to learn, she said. But the test results show that 67 per cent of students in Grade 3 and 6 are at or above the provincial standard, a 13-percentage-point increase since 2002-03.

“We’re already asking for a higher standard,” Ms. Wynne said, noting that students need a B to pass, not 50 per cent.

“On top of that, we’re the only jurisdiction internationally that has sustained that kind of increase over six years. People look to us to say ‘How are you doing that? How are you managing to continue to increase every year?’ ” she said.

The scores don’t mean much when the government is making the tests easier for students, said NDP education critic Rosario Marchese. He said students are allowed to use calculators and the tests are shorter and contain simpler questions.

“Even though the system might say the marks have improved, the quality is the same,” Mr. Marchese said.

But Ms. Wynne said the tests have always been curriculum-based, so if students are using calculators in the classroom they use them in the tests.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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