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The Pressure of Standardized Testing


For some time now, actually since about September, the EQAO drums have been beating for my oldest daughter. For those of you who don't know, EQAO stands for Education Quality and Accountability Office and is the Ontario Ministry of Education’s standardized testing to gauge if children are learning what they should be from the curriculum put forth. These tests are administered in Grades 3, 6, 9 and 10. It is truly a test of the system, from those who set the curriculum to those who teach it.

The problem in all of this is it that those who take the test, the kids, are feeling the pressure. Too much pressure.

My daughter woke up this morning and the first words out of her mouth were “Oh no, EQAO starts next week”. She’s eight. As far as I’m concerned, no eight year old should be waking up stressing about testing a week away. But it wasn’t just this morning. She’s been stressing about this for months. I also know that it’s not just my daughter fretting about it. Kids around the province are having major anxiety attacks about this. This represents a huge fail on the part of the province. I think evaluation of the system is a great thing, but the Ministry is placing the pressure squarely on the shoulders of little kids whose biggest problems right now should be hopscotch or tag.

I have been telling my daughter endlessly that she has nothing to worry about. That this is not her test but rather her teacher’s test. I tell her that she needs to go in and answer the questions to the best of her ability. I have said over and over again that I don’t care how she does on these tests and that I’m more concerned with the results of last week's math quiz. And this  seemingly falls on deaf ears as I see the anxiety building within her. Clearly there is pressure coming from the school.

Results of EQAO tests have become a big deal in this province. Each year local papers proclaim the big winners and losers in a huge expose that either leaves you feeling proud or deflated depending on what school your children go to. The Fraser Institute issues a yearly report card that ranks schools using EQAO as one of the key indicators. This means that parents can choose the school with the higher test results in their neighbourhood to send their child to. It is not a terrible thing for parents to be armed with this knowledge, but it creates a vicious cycle. Schools with higher test results get more students, who in turn are able to raise more funds in the schools for things like smart boards and library books. These schools obviously benefit from these extras and continue to do well. Schools that perform poorly see attendance drop, not to mention morale among the educators.

But is it fair to compare a school in the ‘burbs with a school in the city with a high concentration of students who just moved to Canada? Are your results going to be the same? Of course not. Are these kids any less smart? No. But the results are painted with a broad stroke and there are no caveats provided, such as “This school has a high concentration of ESL students and therefore they may have struggled with comprehension of some of the content”.

I have also heard of parents who pull their children from EQAO testing because they don’t believe in it. The problem with this though is that an unwritten test is marked as a fail which will then bring down the total test result. This reflects poorly on the school, yet,there is a growing movement of parents who refuse to participate precisely because of the stress is causes.

I’m not in that camp....yet. I believe that my daughter will have many tests in her life that will cause her stress and she’s going to have to learn how to deal with that. Coping is a skill that is learned best hands on. On the other hand though, I’m not thrilled with the delivery. It seems to me that Grade 3 is about teaching to the test and I’m fairly certain that no good can come from that. If EQAO is supposed to be an assessment of your child’s education to date, why put so much emphasis on it? Why even talk about it? Maybe tests should be delivered throughout the year with no forewarning if you want a truly accurate assessment of the system. With the whole year clearly focused on one test, no wonder the kids are feeling the heat.

What are your thoughts? Does EQAO and standardized testing in general need to be revisited? Is it simply the delivery method? Should the schools be teaching to the test? Chime in. I have a feeling I’m not the only parent scratching her head on this one.

Image Credit: Arvind Balaraman /