Education Reform – Why are we Rearranging the Deckchairs?

I started off my Twitter reading today with this comment by Matthew Oldridge

One thought about the assessment review Ontario: A Learning Province. It admits in there that we are keeping grades to appease the university industrial complex. Disappointing that the tail continues to wag the dog.

I think this is a great comment. Why do we keep grades? In most classes especially in elementary schools, many of our students are on IEPs modified at or below grade level.

We are getting so much better at assessing the learning levels and aptitudes of students, so much so that grades are becoming irrelevant. Grades were created at a time when it was assumed that everyone learned the same way and at the same pace. Such an idea today would be seen as ridiculous – so why keep grades?

To me, this leads to a bigger question. What else is becoming irrelevant in education?

While it was very encouraging to see the recent review of student assessment take place in Ontario, I was disappointed that the study did not have a wider scope.

We could do so much better than our current system, why stop at system-wide assessment?

Last week on a new show on VoicEd Radio, I made the comment that school boards as organized in Ontario are corrupt. I think this caused a bit of concern, but we didn’t have the time to get into it. By corrupt, I didn’t mean in the financial sense. I meant tainted, decayed, made inferior by errors, that kind of corrupt.

Much in education can then be seen as corrupt and in need of renewal. How can a 19th-century institution developed around the same time as the prison system not be seen as in some ways corrupt and in need of whole-scale change?

How are we served by a trustee system where local representatives are part-time at best and totally dependant on school board staff for the information they need to make decisions that affect thousands of children?

Do the rights of the student really come first in a system where hiring is done based on how many years you have existed on a seniority list?

How are we served by school board superintendents who are not accountable to anyone and have the ultimate authority over everything that matters to children in our schools? In a public school system, why are these people so far removed from public scrutiny?

Why do we still have four types of school boards in Ontario? How is this efficient or necessary? Why can’t we effectively challenge a system that was organized back in the 1840’s?

I think there are a lot more challenges that could be put forward here. I would love to see what other people would add to this short list.

What if there is really a long list of things that need to be reconsidered and debated? What if we really questioned how our education dollars were being spent? What if board officials felt they had to be held accountable, would this affect the decisions they make?

Why can’t we extend the dialogue? Education is not a sacred cow, we should be able to challenge conventional wisdom. We know more, we are very well informed. We deserve the very best education system we can get.

Can we do better than this?

 

Conversations on Assessment in Ontario – Should We Start Again?

By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday, September 3, 2013

So, we are finally talking about EQAO and possibly how we can do better.

Last week we started some interesting conversations on Voiced Radio spurred on by the call to get involved in the provincial consultation on assessment. The first conversation was a great panel discussion and you can listen to it here.

Next, Derek Rhodenizer added to the conversation with another podcast on Sunday Night. Because of the varied nature of this conversation I have been really interested in following the evolving discussions. These are really useful broadcasts. A good panel discussion captures so much. Real radio makes a big difference.

Twitter does too. I have Storified a portion of the conversation using the hashtag #ontedassessment. You can see the conversation here.

While it is not part of the mandate to get rid of EQAO, I am most interested in comments like the one above. While we may want to discuss how we can arrange the provincial deck chairs on the Titanic, I like the comments that challenge the entire testing system.

Andrew Campbell may have said it best when he suggested we look at the reality of EQAO’s role in our education system:

EQAO isn’t an assessment tool. It’s an accountability tool.

People have used some interesting words and phrases over the past week – ancient, industrial era, what EQAO doesn’t know, invasive, ranking, wicked problem. Pretty strong words for a test we are not even considering getting rid of!

The Twitter conversation is really worth reading through. It is impossible to summarize here but there are is a great deal to consider.

One theme has to do with diverting some of the vast resources assigned to EQAO into teacher research:

This point has been made very well over the past few weeks. While we do get a static report on how the student has done, we only get the results the following year. How does this actually do anything useful? How do students and teachers learn anything from results that take months to get back to the school?

The tweet above speaks volumes to me. I think we are sowing a huge amount of distrust in the province. The test discriminates against poor schools, ELL learners, students in the Far North. It pits urban schools against suburban schools. It gives some schools a false sense of security while it blames others.

Why not start over? Why not do as Lynne Hollingshead suggests?

Let’s be a global leader, let’s begin again.

 

Conversations on Improving Ontario Schools – EQAO, Assessment, Reporting

I want to thank VoicEd Radio and Derek Rhodenizer for alerting me to this very short public consultation on assessment and reporting in Ontario. Huge topics to be considered and a shame the consultation period is so short.

I agreed to take a look at the consultation questions and take part in a VoicEd Radio discussion on this topic. Today, I decided to look at some of the questions, especially because the role of EQAO is being discussed.

Join the province-wide conversation about how best to improve Ontario’s approaches to classroom assessments, large-scale provincial assessments including Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) assessments, and Ontario’s participation in pan-Canadian and international assessment programs.

How can EQAO assessments be improved to realize the provincial goals?

I tried to answer the questions posed, I have included some of my responses below:

The best thing we could do with the EQAO infrastructure would be to get rid of it. Assessment is done best by the classroom teacher using a variety of tools much more sophisticated than the ‘one-shot’ EQAO test. The teacher learns a great deal from classroom assessment that can then become the basis for useful feedback to the parent and of course, the child.

EQAO costs a huge amount each year and this money could be better used if the funds were invested back into the classroom. Maybe we could also look at more sophisticated ways of reporting back to the parent rather than the cumbersome, jargon-filled report card.

EQAO scores are used as ways to rank schools and do little to measure the progress being made by the student. It was brought in at a time where accountability was the main concern of government in Ontario. Surely we have become more sophisticated in our approach to education in Ontario.

What types of EQAO reporting do you consider to be most useful, and why?

The current reporting is not useful. It happens once a year and as a principal, I would put this out to teachers and parents and then get back to the job of learning. The main concern about reporting was the ranking that inevitably happens after the results came out and the associated hand-wringing that would take place when our school didn’t do well in math scores.

I was also very uncomfortable with the crowing that our school board would do every year when our results showed better than the provincial average. We never heard anything about the fact that the majority of students we taught were the middle-class sons and daughters of Ottawa-area professionals. Flag waving in the education world is always a bad thing.

EQAO actually has helped us remain complacent about what we are doing to improve the lives of our students. It also marginalized poor schools who tend to do poorly on EQAO, but leaves the whole question of economic inequality unanswered.

I was surprised by the next series of questions – maybe there is hope! The survey steered off in a new direction by focusing on in-class assessment. To me, this is a very good sign that we are actual beginning to think in Ontario when it comes to EQAO and assessment.

Classroom assessment strategies are developed by teachers to help students move forward in their learning and to determine and inform students and their parents/caregivers on their learning progress. Typical classroom assessment approaches include class work, tests and various other activities and assignments that are assessed based on curriculum expectations. Teachers use a variety of assessment tools, which may include direct observation, portfolios, journals, written assignments, presentations, seminars, group work, tests, projects, and self- and peer assessment.

This section was followed up by a few questions including this one.

What types of reporting of student learning in the classroom do you consider to be most useful, and why?

So I continued to respond:

All these are useful except the Provincial Report Card. This is cumbersome and wastes teachers’ time. Timely reporting is more practical and useful and ways to encourage this should be investigated. Parents need good, practical information. Report cards are not timely but are done because they have to be done. Progress reports are more useful because they are more timely and are quick to assemble. We might do better with more progress reports and fewer report cards. Just in time reporting is more helpful to the student, teacher and parent and this should be encouraged.

My concluding remarks:

Some good questions here -thanks for this opportunity. I think it would be a good idea to go further and look at the current governance model for Ontario that keeps local superintendents in charge of school boards and that continues to support a religion-based education system (Catholic Schools). If we are truly interested in reform, we need to investigate and challenge beyond assessment and reporting.

I would love an opportunity to expand on this section, but this is probably enough for one survey. Maybe we could talk about rotating superintendents back into the classroom – now that would be a sea change! I am happy to see these questions – thanks, Derek and VoicEd Radio!