CTBS alternative to Ontario’s EQAO standardized tests

Earlier this week, I suggested that, in Ontario at least, there should be a moratorium on EQAO testing. I also suggested that there were alternatives to EQAO. One such alternative is the Canadian Test of Basic Skills. Known simply as CTBS, they have been around an awful lot longer than any EQAO test as I was administering the series every year from 1972 until the mid 1980s — in several subject areas including literacy and math. The good news is that a Google search indicates they are still available from Nelson. Estimates are that the EQAO costs Ontario taxpayers between $50 and $100 million a year. The CTBS would be a fraction of that. So, if it is accountability and value for money people want …..

18 thoughts on “CTBS alternative to Ontario’s EQAO standardized tests

  1. Bravo! Because testing is necessary, we can’t support a moratorium on testing. The EQAO tests are better than no testing, but not by much. Real standardized testing, like the Canadian Tests of Basic Skills or the Canadian Achievement Tests, would be much better. Much cheaper. Quicker to administer and quicker to yield results. More and more useful information. Comparable to other jurisdictions. Bring it on!


  2. The “one heck of a storm approaching” could be a metaphor for where the standardized testing is going. If the rankings help improve the system, fine, but there are private sector companies making a bundle on the rankings and I don’t think that is right. Moreover, as I have said repeatedly, there is so much to a school than rankings. It depends on so many things. So, if rankings are used to trash a school or for parents to sell their house and move to another neighbourhood, then they have lost their usefullness IMO.


  3. Something I should also write about is the fact that you simply can’t count on anything Mr. McGuinty says. He flipflops. He breaks promises. And, he speaks out of both sides of his mouth. For example, he recently said in a CBC interview that he had “faith in the testing and that teachers shouldn’t break the rules.”

    A year from now, should the Ontario Liberals win another majority — and I certainly hope they don’t — he’ll want to reward teachers, assuming they worked for Liberal candidates as they did during the 2007 election campaign, and he’ll say something to the effect: “Gee whiz, we no longer have faith in usefulness of standardized testing, therefore we are calling a moratorium on EQAO until a review is complete.”

    So, my message to Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak is to come up with a solution that pleases both sides — a moratorium on EQAO AND a promise to implement the CTBS because: (1) it will be far less costly; (2) it can cover not only literacy and math but several other subjects as well; and (3) school rankings released by Nelson would be copyright and only able to be used to help the children in each school, not to pit one school against another.


  4. EQAO provides some valuable insight into the areas of needs for students. Unfortunately, all that useful information is compromised by the pressures to have a certain percentage of students meeting expectations and the need to have 9 year olds determine the housing prices in their neighbourhood. You may have mentioned it earlier, but why did they stop administering the CTBS? I like the concept that the information would be kept private, but still available to schools to help them improve. It seems less of a political tool than EQAO.


  5. Matt — Exactly! You have hit the nail on the head — the CTBS is much less a political tool. And, yes, 9 year olds are influencing property values in neighbourhoods.

    There is something so wrong with that but so many don’t see it. The CTBS was never a political tool. The stats were published in total, not by school. But, I do remember getting the results for my old class, albeit just in general numbers. In that way, I was able to “review” content and skills.

    The other thing those that use the school rankings to make family decisions forget is that in Grade 3, the age of children vary from 7 1/2 to 9 nine year olds depending on how old they were when they started school — turning 4 in December compared to those who were 4 the previous January.

    So, imagine a 7 1/2 year old versus an 8 1/2 year old writing the Grade 3 literacy tests. No comparison in terms of maturity. Even by Grade 6, there is still a lag with some kids.


  6. Mark Holmes was one of my OISE professors — one of the few who was considered progressive “conservative.” For that reason, you will find that today’s left will dismiss pretty much everything he said. But, I agree with him nonetheless.

    The problem with EQAO results is that they are never reproducible from one year to the next because you can’t control the variables, whether dependant or independent. In fact, some school populations vary so much from year to year, making comparisons is a complete waste of time.

    My, my, my but what a can of worms we have opened here. 😉


  7. Sandy you point out the reality that EQAO is an awful tool for year to year comparisons. The variables are too substantial. New students, new test formats, more/less days to administer EQAO, different people marking them each year. Very few researchers would base their careers on test results if their results had the variables that EQAO has each year. There is also the reality that more and more parents are keeping their children home during the days of the test. This is another variable that negatively influences the results.

    The fact that only one method of results is released to the public puts additional pressures on schools. Many students, due to any number of exceptionalities, will not do well on the test. Unfortunately, these students are forced to write the test because anything is better than a zero which will lower the school results. There is also a second method of results where only those who wrote the test are calculated. This allows students who should be exempt from the test to not have to write it. Unfortunately, this method is usually not promoted to the public and not used in determining success/failure.

    It’s funny how much money is being spent to improve test scores. It’s also a shame that in many cases, schools that do well, but have plateaued for a few years, are viewed negatively and programs are often introduced to force these schools to improve more. I’m amazed that real conservatives don’t push for the privatization of EQAO.


  8. Matt — One way or the other, there has to be some kind of standardized testing for parents and taxpayers to know what they are paying for and how the students are performing in relation to other schools, provinces and countries, etc. even if those other countries are homogeneous unlike Canada which is multicultural. I think the CTBS series are the best.

    In any event, there obviously needs to be a way for it to be done that is fair to the children, the teachers and communities where there are more ESL and special needs students. The way EQAO functions now does, IMO, none of those things. In fact, the only ones who really seem to be benefitting are real estate agents.


  9. Something is wrong when schools hover around the 90% success rate for a number of years and are told that they need support to improve their results. These schools should be promoting what works for them around the province, not having questions raised about why they have plateaued. Do you also want more taxpayers’ money pumped into these schools with those results? The money would probably be better spent in other schools. There is even discussions beginning over whether EQAO will be plateauing province wide over the next few years.

    The question also is does EQAO results show what is a good school? Perhaps yes if you have very narrow views in your definition of good schools. Smart buyers would also look at the bigger picture when selecting a home. Many inner city schools have performed well in EQAO over the years. I know many wonderful schools that I would send my children to whose EQAO scores are not the greatest. Maybe these schools don’t teach to the test or work day to day to improve their test results.

    One major factor in determing EQAO results and their usefulness are the new arrivals in university each year. In theory, these students should have done well in EQAO over the years. Unfortunately, it’s been well documented that professors feel that these students are less prepared for university than previous students. This raises the question of whether or not EQAO is measuring things that matter in society or even the basic skills that will hopefully one day help students reach post-secondary education. Maybe a different test is needed to test students on areas that matter.


  10. I want to thank everyone for the very thoughtful debate. Perhaps those in a position to do something about standardized testing will learn something from the various views shared here.


  11. You people are stupid. I am a grade 4 teacher and I administer the CTBS every year as part of the PACE (gifted) program. As the name implies, the CTBS is essentially an IQ test. Are you seriously suggesting that teachers be measured by the IQ of their students? And are you also suggesting that teacher unions have fought against the CTBS test? You people are nothing more than political hacks who bite on anything anti-teacher and/or anti-union. I find it very interesting that you morons are suggesting that teachers should just follow blindly what board officials want. I find it interesting because that is pretty much what is happening, but you blame teachers for it anyways. Lowered suspension rates? TEACHERS’ FAULT! Can’t fail a student? TEACHERS’ FAULT! Don’t you think, even for a second, that the teachers in this province desire a safer environment for others and would support tougher discipline in schools? And don’t you think that teachers would want students held back if they did not achieve the teacher’s expectations? These ideas were brought it by the public, not teachers or teachers’ unions.

    Get your head out out of your asses and start talking to the ‘boots on the ground’ in education– the very teachers you pour your hate-filled political diatribes on!


  12. I approved Nelson’s comment just so we could all see what kind of ignorance and venom and ad hominem attacks progressives in the education system throw around. No accountability. Only an ugly entitlement. Moreover, Nelson obviously does not understand the concept of debate and discussion. I write posts on topics that interest me. Others speak their minds. If Nelson disagrees, he can say so, but his having a temper tantrum hardly makes teachers look professional — which most are.

    Nelson, I am a retired teacher and teacher educator. You have no idea what you are talking about. I also had a special education practice when I was teaching in two Master of Education programs. In my practice, which was also a reading clinic, I administered psycho-education testing.

    Not all CTBS are intelligence tests and classroom teachers are certainly not qualified to do IQ testing. CTBS, if you check the Nelson website, is also available as standardized testing and I administered them in my Grades 4 and 5 annually for years. The type of CTBS you administer is simply an aptitude based using performance equivalent testing (grade point averages) and used for class placement.

    Now, as someone who spent 40 years with the boots on the ground in education, combined with my husbands 40, I would have to say it is you are filled with hate. Had you read my “About” page you would have known. There is no hate here. Only debate and discussion about issues that affect not only teachers, but parents and taxpayers.

    Oh, and by the way, you have a serious reading comprehension problem. I have NEVER suggested teachers follow blindly. However, that is the way it is isn’t it? You do what you are told. You cannot, for ethical reasons, ever speak out publicly. So, you cowardly do it here anonymously.

    Teachers like Nelson are a new breed. They either have forgotten or never learned that the taxpayers and parents are their employers and they need to answer to them. Social pressure and politics is what makes or changes education policy whether he likes it or not. And, criticism is the essence of democracy, whether he likes it or not.


  13. Nelson, one more thing. I was suggesting the CTBS be administered to the children in lieu of the EQAO test — for subject content and skills — not their IQ. When I was teaching, we had no real problems with that process unlike the EQAO process. You clearly did not read my post. I was actually on the teachers’ side for heavens sake.

    And, yes, teachers should be evaluated on the basis of how well their students achieve. However, no one can be evaluated on the basis of someone else’s IQ. That is just silly.

    In fact, given how little you seemed to understand about the whole process, I doubt very much you are a teacher at all.

    So, I won’t be approving any more of your comments.


  14. Just a few facts to correct. EQAO’s annual budget is about $33M and the tests cost about $17 per student. This is a budget that has stayed pretty static over the last few years.

    I agree that a shorter, simpler test would garner the same data and be much cheaper as well. On top of that, for about the same cost you could do value-added assesment to track how much students have improved over a school year. THAT is something the educrats fear because then the Nelsons of the world would REALLY be annoyed.


  15. Thanks for that clarification Doretta re the $33 million. Still an awful lot of money.

    Re Nelson, I have reread his comment a couple of times and have come to the conclusion he is not a qualified teacher, perhaps a TA or volunteer but definitely not a teacher. Or, at the very least, he is very naive teacher.

    For example, had he gone to through teacher training and received a B.Ed., he’d know that teachers MUST follow board and ministry policy and curriculum guidelines, including discipline and social promotion policies and that ALL policies are as a result of public and political pressure and that nowadays, some of that pressure DOES come from the teachers unions. The bottom line is that teachers have NEVER influenced the making of policy and never will. They follow orders. Nothing new there.

    But, there has always been a political dance between advocacy groups like SQE, P4E, the general public and the teachers’ unions. For example, the unions recently got the McGuinty gov’t to allow secondary teachers to give zeros on assignments. Moreover, it is well known that they want all forms of standardized testing cancelled.

    Yet, Nelson wrote: ” Don’t you think, even for a second, that the teachers in this province desire a safer environment for others and would support tougher discipline in schools? And don’t you think that teachers would want students held back if they did not achieve the teacher’s expectations? These ideas were brought it by the public, not teachers or teachers’ unions.”

    The “don’t you think” implies that Nelson thinks teachers should be able to impact policy and that it is only the public that brings in changes to policy. The public do no such thing directly. Sure, groups will lobby the government and the politicians are elected by the public. But, it is the politicians, and to some extent, the bureaucrats in the education ministry who make the policy changes.

    Anyway, if Nelson really is a teacher, he is in the wrong profession because teaching is about following existing policy whether you like it or not. If he doesn’t like the policies, I would recommend he quit and go into politics or run a parent advocacy organization, where he can try and fight for change.

    The irony is he was lambasting us here when in fact I am one of the few who openly criticize existing policies. Meaning, in many ways, I am the public voice for those teachers who cannot say anything public at all. In fact, I have never criticized teachers per se. What I have done is criticize their unions and for good reason. But, if Nelson represents the mindset of young teachers today, heaven help them and our children because they really need to learn more about the political process and the platforms of all the Ontario political parties — not just the liberal progressive point of view that prevails at the moment.

    In a sense I understand the fear of being evaluated on the basis of how well your students do. When I taught university, I was a contract sessional professor, not tenured. Which meant that I had to hand out course evaluations at the end of every course. Those evaluations were more like a popularity contest than anything else but could impact whether my contract was renewed or not. Then, the powers that be put the final marks together with those evaluations and you got a report of the final evaluations.

    What do you do when you want to maintain standards but know if you mark too hard, the students will get even by giving you a bad evaluation? What if you did a good job at teaching and marking but students simply didn’t show up for class? At the university level, classes are not compulsory. So, what if, through no fault of your own, a student gets a bad grade?

    The botton line is that teachers can teach the best they can but they can’t open a child or young adult’s head and pour in the information and skills. In other words, when the public is expecting accountability of teachers, that accountability also involves variables that are far beyond the control of teachers. So, those not in a one-on-one teaching situation don’t always understand that it is not always possible to teach someone something — if they refuse to buy into the process. Yes, good teachers can motivate but not all children have the same ability levels or willingness to be motivated.

    I can still remember a parent interview with a father of one of my grade five students. The child was bright but had behavioural problems and would refuse to do anything. I worked with this child over recesses and after school. I tried to get the family to refer him for counselling. They refused. Yet, that father said to me “I hold you directly responsible for what he does or does not learn.”

    Which is precisely why the teachers unions don’t want teachers to be evaluated on the basis of student outcomes alone or student evaluations that are no more than a popularity contest — with the result that the very standards people want go out the window. And, I agree with that view. It is short sighted and doesn’t take the role of the student into consideration. At the university level, the only professors who had the freedom to have high standards were those who were tenured and weren’t required to get course evaluations completed.

    But, that is an article for another day.


  16. Considering the province spends $20 Billion on education, $33M is a bargain for the information EQAO collects, but yes, it still could be done for less.

    On Value-added assessment: A university student, an adult, is a far cry from an eight-year old grade 3 student. The onus on learning varies inversely with the age of the student, in that as a student progresses through school the responsibilty for learning falls greater on the student rather than the teacher.

    I agree with you Sandy that there are many factors that contribute to learning, but for the most part, the classroom has an enourmous influence and can be a life-changing factor. Most research backs this assertion. I also agree that it would be much better for classroom teachers to have a bigger voice in education–one that is not filtered through their unions. Perhaps if they had the power to not belong to a union, or pick which one they would like to represent them, OR to teach in schools of their choice, their work would be more rewarding and professionally fullfilling.


  17. You have a point Doretta but the problem if teachers were able to speak freely is that you’d hear hundreds, if not thousands of voices and opinions, and the public would likely feel even more frustrated. In fact, when you come to think of it, unions or professional associations speak for all professions. The OMA or CMA speak for doctors. The same for lawyers and nurses. T’is just the way it is I guess. One thing is for sure, elected trustees sure don’t have an individual voice. In fact, the document you get when you decide to run specifies that they are one of a team and have to remember that and once a vote is taken, trustees are not allowed to discuss the issue again. Talk about intimidation.

    In fact, I know of no group that speaks out freely, even those without a union because without a union, employees are bound my confidentiality agreements. To do so is the end of your employment. The CEO or Chair of the Board is the only one who can speak out. It’s called public relations and managed messaging.

    So, isn’t that interesting. Then, there are the political parties and their party discipline. Speak out and you’ll likely find yourself an independent. And, like yourself, if you are a non-profit and work for a board of directors, same thing.

    There you have it. Reality in a nutshell. Unless you are an independent or retired with a pension or other independent income, you have no public voice. Zip! Making our votes that much more important.


  18. The funnyest thing about testing is that nobody actually does anything meaninful with the results. They seem to think that the shear act of naming and shaming the poor performing schools will change things but it doesn’t. These poor performing schools need support. I would start by cutting the size of the classes in the bottom 20% of schools and adding to the sizes of the top 20% every year. Send the very best teachers to the weak schools. Send the very best principals to the weak schools, double down on resources in the weak schools and ELP. The failure to do this means that there is really no purpose to the testing.


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