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Government-commissioned report recommends Ontario should phase out Grade 3 EQAO test

Ontario should phase out its Grade 3 standardized test, according to a new government-commissioned report that makes sweeping recommendations on how students are assessed in the province.

Lead author Carol Campbell, an associate professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, said large-scale testing should “provide a snapshot for the overall system” to guide educators and government. She added that high-performing countries, including Singapore, do not test students until the end of elementary school.

Ontario tests its students on reading, writing and math in Grades 3 and 6. The report, released Tuesday, said that the Grade 6 assessment should be enhanced to incorporate “transferable skills,” meaning problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity skills needed for a changing economy.

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Education Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris said in an e-mail statement on Tuesday that the government will “further consult this fall” on the recommendations related to standardized testing before developing next steps. But with Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals fighting to gain support ahead of the June 7 provincial election, it is unclear what changes, if any, could be made.

The tests conducted by Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) have been the subject of intense debate. Supporters argue that they measure how students are learning the curriculum and keep the education system accountable. But critics say that they are used by some as a way to rank schools and also provide real-estate agents with a valuable sales tool.

Prof. Campbell was asked last fall to consult and review classroom and large-scale assessments as part of a wider provincial “curriculum refresh.”

Among the recommendations was to phase out the Grade 9 math test, as well as the Grade 10 Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test, which is one of the requirements to earn a high-school diploma. Instead, the report recommended implementing a new Grade 10 assessment that is not a graduation requirement and tests literacy, numeracy and other skills.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said the recommendation to scrap the Grade 3 test was a “good step.” But he said he was disappointed that the report did not recommend eliminating EQAO testing altogether. Teachers have argued the tests take up too much time that could otherwise be spent on classroom work.

“The whole testing culture is a problem,” Mr. Hammond said. “We think that the tens of millions of dollars that are put into EQAO could be put into front-line education programs.”

Meanwhile, Charles Pascal, a former Ontario deputy education minister and a professor at OISE, said it was difficult to understand why the government commissioned a report on how students should be tested “before determining major changes to what is to be learned and, therefore, assessed.”

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“It’s a confusing cart-before-the-horse approach,” he said.

Prof. Pascal said he disagreed with the recommendation to get rid of the Grade 3 test, arguing that it assesses how the system is faring and how children are learning after two years of play-based full-day kindergarten.

Dave Cooke, chair of EQAO’s board of directors, cautioned that the removal of the Grade 3 test would result in the loss of “an important source of data on early learning – data that is used not only to improve programs in elementary schools, but also to monitor the effectiveness of public expenditures on education.”

Prof. Campbell said she expected push-back to the panel’s recommendations.

“There are very strong-held views to abolish EQAO. There are very strong views not to change EQAO. And then there was a need to work through a middle ground to see what are the best assessments for all of our students and their learning and development,” she said. “And that’s where we focused our decisions, on what we thought was the best for our students.”

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