Teachers’ union calls for two-year testing freeze

Posted on August 17, 2010 in Education Debates

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TheStar.com – Ontario/parentcentral.ca/Educatio
August 16, 2010.   Louise Brown, EDUCATION REPORTER

Ontario’s largest teachers’ union is calling on Queen’s Park to slap a two-year freeze on the annual testing of Grade 3 and 6 students, so it can ask the public what it thinks of the standardized quiz in the 3 Rs.

“These standardized tests disrupt class routines, put intense pressure on students and force teachers into a narrow focus on literacy and numeracy — standardized testing is a costly exercise that is failing students,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, which represents 76,000 teachers and school workers across the province.

He warned many people, including real estate agents, use the test results as a way to rank schools and even neighbourhoods.

“Ultimately we’d like to see all province-wide tests eliminated, but a two-year moratorium would allow for public consultation on the value of this testing regime,” Hammond said Monday at the federation’s annual meeting in Toronto.

But education minister Leona Dombrowsky told the Star such a freeze “is not our plan. Provincial testing came into effect because parents wanted an independent body to assess their children’s progress, and it provides us with important information around how we can better support students, especially those who perform just below the provincial average.”

It costs about $32 million a year for the province’s testing body, the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) to test some 125,000 students in Grades 3 and 136,000 in Grade 6 in reading, writing and math. Another 101,000 Grade 9 students are tested in math each year and about 142,000 in Grade 10 literacy, which students must pass to graduate from high school.

The teachers’ union has long opposed province-wide testing, arguing it takes away precious teaching time, and has produced a 10-minute video of teachers criticizing the tests, which it hopes teachers will show at home and school meetings.

Dombrowsky, who is slated to address the teachers Tuesday morning, noted Ontario already changed the test in 2005 to address teachers’ concerns, cutting the testing time in half and holding the test later in the school year.

However Hammond suggested that if the government really wants to shrink the deficit, it could start by scrapping the EQAO tests all together and also the $70 million Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, which provides teachers and schools with extra help for struggling students. The proposal will go Wednesday to a vote before the 500 teachers attending the meeting this week at the Sheraton Hotel.

“There’s $100 million in savings right there, if you include scrapping the EQAO tests,” Hammond noted, but Dombrowsky said her government has no intention of scrapping the Secretariat.

Other motions to be voted on this week by the teachers is an immediate freeze on any new educational initiative from the government for two years to give teachers more time to teach without having to be distracted with new programs.

Union locals around the province have also proposed that the federation endorse a call for more mandatory physical activity each day, voice-care workshops for teachers in music, gym and language, and that the curriculum include information about the labour movement.

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