Sunday, August 30, 2009

John Snobelen is full of testing hooey

After reading former "Progessive" Conservative MPP John Snobelen's Toronto Sun commentary about standardized testing in Ontario's schools, I understand his purpose of testing: to test the teachers--not to test how well the students know the curriculum.

It was near the end of his comments where he stated:

They would like to know how their child's teacher has performed. Grading a teacher's professional acumen by his/her students' performance is a sophisticated bit of work. There are a lot of variable. But it can be done.

With a little more investment the standardized testing system could be used to rate teachers and identify strengths and weaknesses. Great teachers could be rewarded and parents could make sure their kids were not exposed to inferior teaching. Not bad really.

I have seen the schools' overall test scores as presented by the government through EQAO. I have also seen the interpretations of scores by the Fraser Institute and C.D. Howe Institute. The Fraser Institute scores each school from a scale of 0 to 10.0. One school received a 10.0 while a neighbouring school received a 2.3. The first school had grade-six students enrolled in gifted classes. There were extremely few lower level special education students enrolled at the school. Of course the test scores are going to be high. In the second school. There were many ESL students enrolled in the regular classes. That school had several community classes for students with autism or were developmentally delayed. These students do not write the tests. However, the Fraser Institute and C.D. Howe Institute gives these students zeros for not writing the tests. As a parent, I could interpret a school's Fraser Institute score of 2.3 as being that the school has lousy teachers.

If Mr. Snobelen wants parents to rate teachers, he can always tell them to go to a "Rate My Teachers" website. I would probably rate very well because I sometimes give my students small treats on Friday afternoon. I have also given them Robert Munsch's mini-books that are worth about a dollar each. Both students and parents love me! I think I'm a pretty good teacher. I will admit that giving students candies and books doesn't make me a great teacher professionally.

Mr. Snobelen did mention earlier in his commentary that teachers teach to the test because students are being tested on the curriculum. That is what teachers should be doing. As a teacher, that is not what my fellow teachers and I mean by "teaching to the test." It means going over the rules of the EQAO tests with the students several times before the actual tests. It means telling the students how to write their responses so that they will receive maximum scores. For example, students are taught the APE method of answering questions--answer, prove, and explain. Students are taught how to answer questions if the first word in the question is list, explain, compare, justify, describe, etc.

I would love to see an enlightened school principal at a fairly large school take two grade-three or six classes, mix and divided the students into two new groupings. There would be a fair mixture of boys and girls with different academic abilities in each group. The first group would perform test preparation exercises and learn how to take the EQAO tests; the second group would learn curriculum content--either new or review. The teachers in the two classes can rotate teaching the two groups each second day. I would suggest that the first group would perform better on the EQAO tests than the second group based on the preparation skills of the first group.

Mr. Snobelen would like to reward great teachers. I don't know how he would do that. Perhaps teachers could receive smiley stickers for students receiving level threes (B's) and fours (A's) on the EQAO tests. Great teachers know that formal testing is only one small assessment measure. Great teaachers inspire their students to want to learn. The EQAO tests are no inspiration for student learning.

Great teachers want to teach. However, they don't need to teach in Ontario. They can teach anywhere in the world. If Mr. Snobelen wants more standardized testing, great teachers won't teach in Ontario.

Here's a video of a speech by Sir Ken Robinson about schools killing creativity. Enjoy!


janfromthebruce said...

Amen - skinny. Students and schools should be rated beyond "testing" which in my view is a limited and crude view of both students' and schools' achievements.
Many jurisdictions in the States are finally moving away from "testing" as does it "measure" what is ultimately important or really show student "success."
Student "success" should be expanded to include other "measures" which also can be quantified and show that students are being successful.
EQAO test scores are so simplistic in so many ways. Eg. I am more interested in seeing an overall increase rather than the final score. The school that increases its scores from 1 to 2.5, for example, is doing well or even better than the school that started at 2.4 and increased to 2.5.
As a progressive trustee, I have to say that the "dark years" of Harris "common sense revolution" is still playing out. One place in particular has to do with that funding formula. The McGuinty govt was elected on the promise of fixing it but alas, beyond tickering with it, it essentially remains the same.
Anyway, good post today.

Skinny Dipper said...

Thanks for the comment, Jan.

I will say that teachers in general are not against some form of standardized testing such as random testing of students. The PISA tests are one form of random testing that demonstrate that students from Ontario perform very well internationally in Literacy, Mathematics, and the Sciences.

My main point that I should emphasize is that one cannot directly correlate EQAO test scores and one's ability to teach.

Although I do not like to identify where I teach, I will let you know in a future blogpost what my board seeks in excellent teaching. I will say that student test scores is ont one of its indicators of great teaching.

Sangenjaya Boy said...

Snobelen is an irrelevant political hack who is trying to maintain what little relevance he still has. His next move is to make his push for Hudak to run in the next election so we can experience Harris Lite for the next few years.
EQAO doesn't provide meaningful information by which to measure student or teacher success. It would be better to test at the beginning of the year and the end of the year to measure progress. Furthermore, any teacher would tell you that a "B" should not be the standard. A "B" should be viewed as a positive result, not merely meeting the standard. You cannot legislate ability. Over 60% scoring a legitimate "B" on a standardized test that is marked honestly (unlike the Byzantine calculations that are used now) would be more appropriate.
Should teachers be rewarded for having gifted students one year and punished the next for having students that leave a great deal to be desired in a variety of areas? Maybe we should introduce standardized testing or at least IQ testing for politicians. I wonder how Snobelen the gun-smuggler would do.......

tagskie said...

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