March 16, 2020
It’s report card time, but not for the kids.
Instead, the annual ranking of the province’s elementary schools is out.
The Report Card on Ontario’s Elementary Schools 2020 by the Fraser Institute’s Peter Cowley and Joel Emes, allows parents to compare the performance of individual schools, school boards or regions based on student standardized testing results.
Each report card can get about two million unique views online at compareschoolrankings.org — evidence that parents find it a useful tool in helping to choose the right school for their child, Cowley said.
The report card uses data from the province’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) reading, writing and math tests given to students in Grades 3 and 6.
“What this does in a very short time and for a very small amount of money is at two times during the elementary grades everybody who’s interested in the skills development of the kids gets a second opinion with regards to how the kids in a particular school or in a particular board are doing,” Cowley said.
“No one would suggest, certainly not me, that province-wide testing should replace all of the little small tests and essays and all the things that happen in the classroom every day."
“Nobody is saying that teachers don’t have a good idea of how their individual kids are doing, but what teachers don’t have is a good idea about how for instance schools three miles away that serve students and families that have similar characteristics are doing better than you are,” he said.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO,) has been highly critical of both EQAO testing and school rankings, and has argued that ending the testing will free-up more funding for key priorities for students.
Prepping for EQAO tests was one of the first activities dropped by teacher unions when their job action began.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she has never been supportive of the EQAO.
The testing creates a great deal of stress and teachers end up teaching to the test as opposed to everything else kids need to learn and be exposed to in order to develop, she said.
The school rankings, she said, are then are based upon problematic testing.
“Then do the rankings really have any accuracy or any real relevancy when it comes to how students are doing?” Horwath said.
“That’s the question.”
Alexandra Adamo, a spokesman for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said the recent EQAO results confirmed the province’s students are still struggling to meet math standards, prompting the Ministry to take action.
“We will never accept the status quo,” Adamo said in an email.
“We are demanding better for our kids by investing in a landmark 4 year $200 million strategy that will help our students and educators build the confidence and knowledge to excel in math.”
EQAO testing is not supposed to be stressful for kids or require any extra instruction from teachers — it’s meant to be a snapshot in time of how well kids in general are being taught, Cowley said.
The results don’t show up on the report card that goes home with the student, nor do they necessarily reflect the talents of the Grade 3 or 6 teacher, he said.
“It is a test of the work that done by the teachers from the day that child enrols in the school,” Cowley said.
As for criticism from teacher unions for any ranking of schools, Cowley said they resist the idea that one member might be better at the job than another.
“They don’t like the testing because it implies that the group of teachers in one school is more effective than the group of teachers in another,” Cowley said.
“They don’t believe it.”
But without the rankings, how would you know that several schools in the province have done exceptionally well despite having higher-than-average numbers of children with special needs, he said.
The rankings allow teachers and principals and school boards to look at how schools with similar or even more high needs populations serve their students and seek out best practices, he said.