Wednesday, 15 May 2013

EQAO Musings

The countdown has begun; there are only seven teaching days left until we begin our EQAO assessment.

I know there are many teachers out there who are very against EQAO testing, and I fully understand their arguments.  I recently read a post by Andrew Campbell that gave me plenty to consider on the whole EQAO question.

However, notwithstanding Mr. Campbell's points, I believe that the EQAO provides educators with some very useful and powerful information.  Taken as a whole, it does show us patterns of achievement so that we can see -  as a teacher, as a school, and as a board - where we need to change our practice.  It is appalling that our minority groups don't perform as well as their majority counterparts.  But that just tells me there is more work to be done in closing the achievement gaps for these students.

When comparing two schools with similar demographics, it is interesting to note when one school is outperforming the other, (which happens often).  As a teacher, I want to know: What are they doing in that school?  Is it something I can and should be doing with my students?

I'm ashamed to admit this, but knowing that the EQAO test is looming over us, I am motivated to never give up on my students.  Case in point - we recently had a Measurement test in Math.  A full third of my students struggled with finding the area and volume of triangular prisms.  If I didn't know that they would be tested on these concepts in June, I might have said "oh well, they'll learn it again next year".  But that EQAO test makes me accountable.  It is not acceptable for 33% of my students to not understand these concepts.  So I reassessed my teaching, and retaught the unit to these students using different teaching strategies.  The EQAO assessment provides me the impetus to keep on trying. I shouldn't need that impetus, but I do.

It is fairly common practice for teachers to teach students "frameworks" for answering Open Response questions on the EQAO.  But I've had experience scoring (they are "scored" not "marked") the EQAO assessments, and I discovered that these "frameworks" don't work.  Typically, the students who used a four-square model to answer Math questions didn't do well.  The curriculum suggests that we teach students to use a 4-part problem solving model.  This model works, forcing students to use a framework does not.  Just because they draw a four-square on their paper doesn't mean that they will be able to work through the four steps of problem solving.  They actually have to have deep understanding of the Math concepts to answer the Open Response questions.

Likewise, I've seen many different frameworks used when answering the Reading Open Response questions, such as "point, proof, comment" or "APE" (Answer, Proof, Extension).  These don't work either.  In order for the students to be able to respond to the questions appropriately, they have to comprehend the text.  Nothing else works.

So when I hear people complain that teachers are just teaching to the test, it bothers me.  In my experience, taking time to teach students frameworks for their Open Responses is a waste of time.  We need to spend every moment helping our students to develop deep understanding of the content areas. We need our students to be able to construct their own understandings of Math concepts and written texts.  That is the trick to helping them succeed.  

I have found over the years, that while the EQAO assessment might not be perfect, and it might not be scored perfectly, it does do one thing very well.  It assesses how well we are teaching the Ontario curriculum. It has forced me to teach that curriculum better every year and to constantly improve my practice so that everyone in my class succeeds.  I just wish it could happen during the very last week of school, because trying to teach 10  months of curriculum in 9 months does not seem fair or just to me or my students.  And I've learned the hard way that you have to teach ALL of the Science and Social Studies curriculum as well because often the Reading and Writing activities are based on the content areas.  Without those under their belts, the students don't have the necessary background knowledge to succeed.  These days, we are moving at break-neck speed; and that isn't any fun at all.


  1. I just saw your blog post on Doug Peterson's blog, and I'm so glad that you did. This is my first year teaching Grade 6, and I've definitely felt EQAO looming all year long. My approach has been much like yours. Even though the test can sometimes seem frustrating, it's definitely helped me reconsider how I teach what I teach, and how I ensure that all students learn. I've noticed the increase in student achievement this year, and I think that's a great thing!

    Now if I were to go back and teach another grade, I know I'd do it differently because of what I learned this year. Thank you for sharing so much of what I was thinking too. :)


  2. Hi Aviva,

    Thanks for your comment. It is nice to know that others out there are sharing in the same reflections as I am.

    I hope everything runs smoothly for you and your students over the next two weeks. Here is my one last piece of advice: DO NOT look at the assessments at all. Don't read one thing your students write, because it will just increase your stress level. I have learned through experience that while they are actually writing, ignorance is a beautiful thing! Whatever will be, will be. We've done all we can, all that there is left to do is celebrate and enjoy the time we have left with our classes.


Please share your comments and ideas. When it asks you to "comment as" you have the option to select "name/URL" and can leave your name only or comment as "anonymous" if you prefer.