Why I somewhat agree with ETFO’s negative position on standardized testing

Pencil on school test. Click for Peter Greene's article on Huff Post.

Pencil on school test. Click for Peter Greene’s article on Huff Post.

Who benefits the most from standardized testing? Certainly, in Ontario, the EQAO agency which conducts the testing benefits to the tune of millions and millions of taxpayer dollars a year. Another beneficiary is the Fraser Institute that provides annual “reports” on how schools rank. As well, some schools and municipalities benefit when schools in their areas have averages that are higher than the norm — resulting in some parents actually relocating to those communities.

However, contrary to the Fraser Institute’s “key academic indicators of school performance” (on page 5 in the above link), their reports are empty of specifics. Here, for example is what some of those so-called indicators look like.

1. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in reading
2. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in writing; and
3. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in mathematics.

Now, exactly where are the “academic” or “learning objectives” in the indicators? Do the test results indicate, for example, that students were able to identify words in text — which is the first “fluency” phase of reading? Or, in terms of comprehension, do the test results prove that students in Grade 3 were able to identify the main idea in a paragraph? Or, in the average level of achievement in math, were the Grade 3’s able to add and subtract in three columns?

In other words, while the Fraser Institute’s Report indicates there are four standards used by EQAO (e.g., levels one to four), their indicators actually indicate nothing.

There is so much more to a school than cold, static, standardized test results. There are academic subjects such as social studies, history and science. There is also phys ed and extra-curricular activities, such as chess clubs, bands, art clubs, basketball, volleyball and baseball. In all those instances, children are learning new things, as well as how to get along with others and how to cope in the world.

Plus, let’s not forget there are opportunities for parents to volunteer and get to know their child’s teachers and what goes on in their child’s school day to day.

I frequently hear non-teachers talking about the entitlement attitude of today’s teachers. That too bothers me and I say so regularly. However, how many parents, in the midst of such complaining, will also tell you that they like and appreciate their own children’s teachers?

In the U.S., under President Obama, teachers have been fired for low standardized test results that measure so little of what students are actually learning. As Peter Greene says in his Huff Post column: “What about identifying schools that need help? Is the data used to help those schools? Not unless by ‘help’ you mean ‘close’ or ‘take over’ or ‘strip of resources so students can go to a charter instead.’ Our [the U.S.] current system does not identify schools for help; it identifies schools for punishment.”

Anyway, check out this video and list of reasons the Ontario elementary teachers union (ETFO) recommends a random sampling approach, as opposed to 100% standardized participation in the various grades affected. It is why I somewhat agree with their complaints about EQAO standardized testing. There really are other methods of evaluation that would be more helpful to parents.

Fraser Report re basing “teacher pay” on student outcomes not realistic!

While it may not be a popular notion for me to suggest elementary and secondary teachers should NOT be paid merit pay on the basis of student success, I am going to do so anyway because the subject comes up every couple of years.

Today was no exception. Ken Moore, who operates a blog called Metanoodle, seems to think establishing teacher excellence would be a relatively easy process. As he wrote in a post this morning: “Why aren’t tests of student learning the track to better pay? There are good teachers everywhere but what evidence that college and promotion produced them?”

Well, for one thing, in terms of evidence, teacher graduates receive their licencing certification from their professional college just as is the case with other professional bodies.

In other words, they passed the requirements leading to that certification which, contrary to the opinion of some, can be quite rigorous (e.g., in some cases, a four year university degree that included a final year studying all aspects of teaching and learning and 8 – 12 weeks of practice under the supervision of a practicing teacher.)

Apparently Moore’s comments were related to the latest Fraser Review of the Literature Report — which “recommends new policies that will potentially enhance the impact that teachers and school administrators have on the academic achievement of public school students.”

Now let’s look at that final statement again — the impact teachers and administrators have on student achievement. No where does it question what the impact student ability and attitude might have on their academic achievement. Teaching is an act between two human beings. Each has a duty to the end result. I mean, teachers cannot simply open a child’s head and pour in knowledge and skills.

Yes,  I know I will be accused of being part of the “education-blob”  and therefore biased because I am both a former teacher and teacher educator. Yet, I have also done research on teacher behaviour and student success when I was in private practice operating a reading and learning disabilities clinic. My results suggested that a variety of methods of student evaluation should be used.

So, the very idea that the Fraser Institute’s review of the literature indicates that (according to the Globe and Mail’s analysis) school principals should be able to fire teachers based on student outcomes in order to establish winning teams, is absolutely abhorrent.

What an absolutely cut throat idea for everyone. Schools would become a very nasty place to be that is for sure because an individual principal would have too much power over everyone. And, I have taught in schools where that kind of scenario existed and it was not pleasant.

I mean, we are dealing with human beings here and not processes or products. Is success an extra 2% on standardized test results in reading, having 2 completed science projects or having done better in everyday work than last year?

Will such variables be considered such as a child having after-school tutoring or an older sibling who helped them with their school projects?

Given what I have written lately about Jake Barnett (here and here), readers may wonder how I can be against the system in some ways but not in terms of merit pay.

Well, to my mind, they are completely separate issues. We cannot expect teachers to teach to the needs and talents of each student, while at the same time, to a specific generalized “standardized” test result.

In fact, in my opinion, the two notions are incompatible. Rather, what should happen is that each child’s outcomes be based on a comparison of what they did last semester or last year compared to the present.

Merit pay, on the other hand, or value added compensation as the Fraser Report refers to it, based on standardized test results or GPA scores will have teacher’s teaching to the test and not to the needs of each student.

Plus, there is the issue of compensation equality. While I may be critical of teachers’ unions from time to time, there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that when it comes to the establishment of a gender neutral pay scale, they got it right. Opening up that criteria by adding in merit pay based on a principal’s interpretation of student outcomes could adversely affect the gains women in education have made.

In my opinion, then, the crux of the matter is that no matter how many times think tanks like the Fraser Institute recommend teachers be paid based on student success, it is simply not a realistic possibility for some of the reasons I have given.

[…]

Updates

Cross-posted at Jack’s Newswatch.

Dr.Seuss’ Yertle the Turtle too political for BC schools?

Courtesy Wikipedia. Click on image.

Update: Charles Adler weights in on educrats and how they are ruining childhood with their politically correct agendas. (H/T Catherine). Where I disagree with Adler is his assuming everyone in the system, or everyone was part of the system at one time, are politically correct educrats. Obviously. I don’t see myself that way or I wouldn’t have written this post. That said, Adler is correct. People need to allow children to be children and use books like Yertle the Turtle to teach lessons, not conformity.   

[…]

You have to know that political correctness has replaced common sense when the Prince Rupert School District in BC considers the children’s Dr. Seuss classic, Yertle the Turtle, to be too political to use, either with students in the classroom, or in BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) materials that might be visible in a teacher’s car.

Now, I may not agree with the actions of either the BC government or the BCTF during and after their recent walk-out, but forbidding union materials in a person’s car sounds like political harassment and bullying to me.

For example, here are a couple of selected quotes from a Globe and Mail article by Wendy Stueck:

“A Prince Rupert elementary teacher has been told a quote from Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle is a political statement that should not be displayed or worn on clothing in her classroom. The teacher included the quote in material she brought to a meeting with management after she received a notice relating to union material visible in her car on school property.”

“The advice is in keeping with a 2011 arbitrator’s decision that found political materials must be kept out of B.C. classrooms, said Dave Stigant, who is acting director of instruction for the Prince Rupert School District and who met with the teacher to discuss what would and wouldn’t run afoul of district standards….”

So, why might Yertle the Turtle be a problem for the BC government or the Prince Rupert School District?  Well, it is a story that uses metaphor to show what oppression and bullying looks like.

In the case in point, Yertle forces his fellow turtles to hold him up, even when the turtles at the bottom are hurting and complaining.  In response he simply tells them to shut up and keep holding him up. Eventually, the bottom turtle burps and they all go flying and Yertle ends up in the mud.

Hmmm. In other words, in B.C. that is exactly how the teachers are feeling and the school district and BC government don’t like it one bit that they are being portrayed as bullies.

Well, as my regular readers know, I don’t agree with teachers strikes or work to rule campaigns, but I am definitely getting the feeling that the animosity that BC teacher’s are feeling is a huge problem that no amount of politically correct bullying is going to fix. In fact, it is going to make things even worse.  

Anway, the primary problem is, as I understand it, a decision by the BC Supreme Court that “working conditions were a teacher’s right,” that the BC government refuses to acknowledge. Personally, I disagree with the whole notion, as I have written about before, but that is irrelevant now.

I mean, when BC school districts are calling teachers on the carpet because quotes from a Dr. Seuss classic are “too political,” you know there is a serious breakdown, not only of communication but of respect.  You also have to know there is a serious problem when the BCTF and the government can’t even agree on a mediator.

Solution? Well, either the BC government has to take the BC Supreme Court decision to the federal court for a final resolution, or they have to simply put the “right” back in the collective agreement and get on with providing BC children with the education their parents expect.

However, if the BC government refuses to deal with this “political” situation, in the long term,  it is government officials and their school district administrators that are going to be covered in mud.

Windsor teacher faces abuse charges by Ontario College of Teachers

Colleen Anne Murphy was a substitute teacher for the Greater Essex County District School Board in the Windsor, Ontario area for seven years, resigning in 2009 amid allegations she physically and psychologically abused students. According to Sarah Sacheli of the Windsor Star, Murphy is expected to appear before an Ontario College of Teachers  disciplinary committee on these charges next week during two days of hearings beginning October 25th, 2011.

This case will be interesting given recent revelations by the Toronto Star regarding secrecy and teacher union involvement in the disciplinary hearings. Check out what I wrote here, including my three endnotes, as well as links to the Kevin Donovan articles.

In effect then, the Murphy hearing will be a test case to see if the OCT secrecy and laissez-fair attitude regarding teachers abusing students remains and whether or not she has her licence to teach in Ontario reinstated. Remember, this disciplinary process should not be about protecting teachers’ reputations and names because I assume there are witnesses to the various allegations.

Meaning, disciplinary hearings at the OCT should, first and foremost, be about the public interest and public trust in those working with children and youth in one of our public institutions — an institution that requires compulsory attendance!

Time will tell.

Ontario teachers’ unions to spend $3 million to save McGuinty gov’t

When a public sector union in Canada, like the Ontario Catholic Teachers’ Federation, decides to spend $3 million of their members’ dues, to save a boondoggle-prone and inefficient provincial government, like the Dalton McGuinty Liberal government, you can assume that something is fishy. Why?  Because, as all taxpayers know, he who pays the piper calls the tune

During the last week, it has become very clear that Canada is in the midst of a paradigm shift. In fact, I now believe that the federal election of 2011 will go down in history as a shift either, back to the debt and deficits and entitlements of the 1970s or forward to smaller government and both government and taxpayers living within their means.  

And, symptomatic of that paradigm shift is the latest news that the Ontario Catholic Teachers Association are ramping up their battle with the Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) Party and its leader Tim Hudak in the lead-up to the Ontario election in early October. Remember, this is a group that represents “Catholic” teachers, Christians, who say they believe that they are their brother’s keeper. That being the case, how much good could $3 million do towards breakfast and lunch programs in inner city schools?  

Instead, that $60 levy against each and every member is apparently going to be used to help the McGuinty government get re-elected to a third majority government. And, according to the Toronto Star, that is in addition to whatever is being spent by the Working Families Coalition — which is also funded by the teachers’ unions, as well as other public sector unions.

Why? Because teachers’ collective agreements expire in 2012. Meaning, the teachers’ unions would have to face bargaining with the Tim Hudak PCs and they obviously don’t like that prospect one bit. On the extra levy, Christina Blizzard writes today in the Toronto Sun:

“It’s a protectionist racket — a shakedown to ensure teachers continue to get their lavish pay hikes and benefits. Since Premier Dalton McGuinty came to power in 2003, teachers have seen their pay hiked around 25% — an average of about 3% a year… [So] don’t look to the McGuinty Liberals to freeze teachers’ salaries, as they promised. They’ve failed miserably to hold the line on any public sector salary. Why start now?”

I heard Tim Hudak on the radio this week. He said he comes from a family of teachers and has nothing but respect for the profession. I feel pretty much the same way. I am a teacher. I am a retired teacher, as is my husband. I’m therefore, not going to be a hypocrite.  We both have a teachers’ pension (albeit mine is reduced). Do I appreciate what we have? You bet I do! Do I realize that it was collective bargaining that made our pensions possible? Yes, of course I do. But, I do not recall such partisanship and the complete lack of social conscience and willingness to compromise that I am seeing now.  

Well, Ontarians need to remember then that he who pays the piper calls the tune. In other words, if the McGuinty Liberals get re-elected, we can expect our taxes to go up to pay for public sector union demands — because they will owe them big time. So, three million to save the McGuinty government may not seem like much money in the grand scheme of things, but it is symptomatic of all that is wrong with our society today and its “we are entitled to our entitlements” attitude.   

[…]

Endnote: I am puzzled every time I see the Working Coalition ad on TV, you know the one where the men in suits are sitting at a board table insinuating that good old “Tim” (meaning Hudak), should give capitalist Bay Streeters everything they want and forget everyone else. Well, hello?  Ridiculing capitalists? Look at the type of investments made by the Teachers’ Pension Plan and OMERS. In fact, the plans for teachers and municipal workers are two of the largest investment groups in the province.  It’s common sense. Capitalism creates a climate for investment. Investors create wealth. Wealth creates jobs. People work in jobs. People pay taxes which pay for public services. So, why bite the very hand that feeds them? Oh, silly me, it’s give the public sector unions everything they want and forget everyone else!

Globe’s Radwanski thinks McGuinty’s “education record” key to re-election in 2011

What is it about so many Canadian professional journalists that they feel they have to continually promote Liberal governments, even when they are doing a bad job of governing? And, yes, the McGuinty-led Liberals have done a bad job of governing Ontario, particularly given the number of e-Health-like boondoggles, wind energy and other money sucking green initiatives, the HST and other tax increases (e.g. the health premium and eco-taxes come to mind), as well as ever rising hydro rates. In fact, the Ontario Liberals have taken Ontario from “have” to “have not” status in just a few years, requiring equalization payments be returned to Queen’s Park. Meaning, that Ontario is no longer the economic engine of Canada. 

Yet, plugging for the Ontario Liberal Party is exactly what Adam Radwanski seems to be attempting in today’s Globe and Mail (H/T Catherine). I say “seems to be attempting” because, while he does provide several reasons for the McGuinty Liberal government to stress their record on education in order to get re-elected in October 2011, he also presents several caveats as to why that may not happen.  And, on those points, I would agree.

Endnote: Post shortened on Friday, December 23rd, 2010. C/P at Jack’s Newswatch.

School standardized testing about accountability, not fairness

It seems that most, if not all, principals, teachers and teachers’ unions hate school-based standardized testing. Why? Well, according to Ian Gillespie’s column in the London Free Press on November 24th (H/T Catherine), it’s because the tests are costly to administer, stressful for the students and unfair to teachers.

Too costly? Unfair to teachers? How? Do they not indicate how well students can perform certain tasks? Do they not indicate whether or not students have all the skills they need to read and calculate? Yes? Well then, if that is the case, they are neither too costly or unfair. 

However, that said, the problem seems to be that teachers as a group do not want to be held responsible for what a child learns. They also don’t like the competition that results from ranking schools. Which may not be fair, but which is, after-all, what public accountability is all about!

Now, I have some sympathy having been on the front lines for more than a dozen years. I mean, you can’t simply open up a child’s head and dump in the learning. They have to be willing to be active participants in their own learning. However, if teaching practice research over the past fifty years has shown us anything, it is that the way a teacher teaches influences the way children participate — and yes, learn. So, it’s a two-way street.

However, teachers don’t like to have that responsibility. Thus, the likely reason they think standardized tests are unfair is because they are not only exposing how well a specific class is performing, by default, they are also showing how well a teacher is teaching — and, let’s not forget, given how parents use school rankings,  how well an entire school is doing .

Then, there is the endless cry that if students do badly they are maimed for life because their self-esteem is crushed. Hogwash! Absolute nonsense. Life if about stress. Life is about succeeding and failing. I mean, that is how we learn, by screwing up and learning from our mistakes.

Which is why I am so against “success” policies that are nothing more than “no-fail” policies or social promotion policies that push kids through from one grade to the next before they are ready. Short sighted hardly begins to describe the current ideology in most school boards in Canada and the U.S.

Well, this type of philosophy has to change. It has to change because the standardized testing results we do have, in Canada at least, indicate the results are abysmal. Meaning, that far too many of today’s high school graduates are not ready for college, university or an apprenticeship, in terms of the skills they will need to complete qualifying tests.

Need proof? Here is a section from Gillespie’s column with quotes from Jim Cote, a sociologist at the University of Western Ontario and one of the authors of the Ivory Tower Blues (a blog that has been on my favourites list for some time).

“‘The low-achieving students obviously need some remediation. I mean, isn’t that the point?’ says Cote, a professor in the University of Western Ontario’s sociology department and co-author of Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis. ‘The intention is not to be punitive. The intention is to bring up everybody’s standards.’ And those standards, he says, are abysmal. A survey of nearly 2,000 faculty and librarians from 22 Ontario universities released last year reported first-year students frequently displayed a lack of required writing, math and critical thinking skills, poor research abilities and an expectation of success without the requisite effort.

All these problems,’ says Cote, stem back to the 1960s when department exams were abolished and grades began to be routinely inflated to boost overall averages. ‘Grade inflation is really messing up the system,’ says Cote, whose new book on the topic (Lowering Higher Education, co-written with Anton Allahar) is due out in a few months. ‘We’re getting people coming to university who are really not prepared. They’ve been given totally false feedback.’

Cote says making a student feel better about their abilities avoids the real problems revealed by the tests. ‘You’re really doing (students) harm because they’ll eventually hit the wall and do a major fail, and that’s not good for self-esteem,’ he says, adding testing helps students prepare for the stresses of life. ‘If there are problems, let’s deal with these problems: Identify those (students) who are weak and who need remediation, and get them help early. But don’t pass them on to universities and expect us to do it, because it’s too late.'” [My highlighting.]

Students have “been given totally false feedback.” Cote is right on! When I was teaching university, undergraduate students — who were training to be teachers — would show up in my office asking me to change their marks. Why? Because they inevitably thought their mark was too low and that they deserved an “A” because they had, quote: “worked hard.”

When I would explain that, since I had no idea how hard anyone had worked, I had to base my mark totally on what they handed in, they seemed puzzled. Yes, I would explain, I gave marks for grammar, spelling and presentation of sources and footnotes, but that an “A” was only ever given, not only for a near-perfect presentation, but for a well argued and exceptional argument and defence.

In other words, students need to be taught what accountability means, what an “A” means. As such, school standardized testing should be here to stay, in fact increased to include more grade levels.  Yes, it is about public accountability, but more than that, it is about students learning that they too are accountable for their own success or failure.

And so, the crux of the matter is that it should NOT be considered unfair to students, teachers or the teachers’ unions that our provincial governments insist on having standardized testing.