Literacy · Teaching Reflections · Topics for Parents and Students

EQAO results do matter; why can’t they be celebrated? And why can’t we use them as red flags for schools that are struggling?

In perusing my local newspaper recently, I came across a front page article on the topic of some local schools whose EQAO results have been consistently outstanding at the elementary and secondary levels for some time now.  What was disappointing was the reaction to said results by the administrators of multiple school boards. They acted like it was something to be swept under the rug and essentially argued that it was only a ‘snapshot’ in student achievement and highly dependent on ‘socio-economic’ factors. Moreover, schools that were underperforming were carefully left out of the article……..hmmmm

If you are unaware of the term EQAO it refers to Education Quality and Accountability Office. In the province of Ontario, it administers standardized testing to grade 3, 6, 9 and 10 students, focusing on the essential skills of literacy and numeracy.

I am not a teacher at any of the aforementioned schools, but my kids go to one of the elementary schools mentioned. Regardless of my association to one of these schools, I felt terrible for all of them. As an educator who has worked in EQAO prep and administration for nearly a decade, I know the absurd amount of work that goes into ensuring students are prepared to do well on these tests. And no, that DOES NOT just mean test prep. It means creating school wide literacy and numeracy programs, at lunch and after school supports, teacher/student/parent conferences,  and ensuring that curriculum is delivered in an engaging way with multiple opportunities for feedback and advancement for students. It takes a SCHOOL WIDE literacy and numeracy program for continued success on EQAO testing and that program needs to be created and supported by all educators in a particular school. Sweeping all their hard work under the rug is really a slap in the face to the teachers who created and supported those students in achieving their outstanding results.

Yes, teachers at some high performing schools may have some advantages in terms of having students from a higher social stratification,  but we live in a Northern Ontario community! No single school in this region is free of social stratification. Moreover, to have EQAO success for years and years, school wide programming needs to be in place. Teachers at the school need to be constantly aware of the changing needs of students from year to year, as well as their learning styles to ensure they are adequately preparing their literacy and numeracy skills for testing.

Furthermore, as a parent and educator I often talk to other parents and educators about EQAO testing as it’s something I’m invested in. In these conversations, I cannot believe the difference in supports and literacy/numeracy programming available to students at various schools within the same community, particularly at the elementary level. It is notwithstanding to note that the schools with more supports and focus on literacy and numeracy programming are those with high or exceptional EQAO results, where those without such programming and supports are often performing dismally.

Forcing the fairy tale of equality seems like a good idea and comes from good intentions, but in reality all it does is frustrate high performing schools whose efforts and success are being ignored,and create at atmosphere of complacency for many underperforming schools.

Why can’t we celebrate schools with great EQAO results?

Let’s be honest,  school administrators play with their opinion on the importance of EQAO results. If they are at an underperforming school, they will follow the party line that they are a “snapshot” and dependent on “socioeconomically influences”, but if they are at a high performing school then then EQAO results are publicized to promote the success of the school (especially at the secondary level).  As an educator and parent I hate this hypocrisy. Perhaps I’m biased as an English teacher, but in my opinion, literacy and numeracy skills are essential to success in school; period.

By school board administrators pretending that EQAO results don’t matter, they are trying to play the facade that all their “schools are equal”. In theory this is wonderful, but in reality it just isn’t true. All schools within a school board  or larger community simply aren’t equal. Schools have different populations, cultures, students, teachers and extracurricular programs/opportunities.

As an educator  and parent who has been a guest in many elementary and secondary schools, I know when I’m walking into a school where good things are happening. Often,  but not always, those are also the schools where EQAO results are consistently high or improving. EQAO results may only be one part of the success of a school, but more often than not, successful results coincide with schools that have excellent leadership, an engaging and motivated teaching staff, strong extracurricular programming and a supportive parent population.

There is no logical reason school boards cannot celebrate the successful accomplishments of high performing EQAO schools. These results are not circumstantial, they are the result of hardworking and goal oriented school administrators, teachers, students and parents. Give them the accolades they deserve!

Why can’t we use EQAO results as red flags for schools that are struggling?

Using EQAO results as a red flag for schools that are struggling wouldn’t be such a bad idea. It’s not like you have to vilify them – it’s just a sign that things aren’t working and a shake up is required.  If as an institution, only 30-40% of students in a school are consistently demonstrating grade level literacy and numeracy skills, that’s a problem – a big problem. You can’t blame it on circumstances; clearly basic literacy and numeracy skills are not being made a priority in that institution. Significantly low results aren’t just moderate, they should signal a school wide literacy/numeracy problem. Why can’t these schools be given extra funding for more human resources, tech infrastructure or special training for teachers? If the problem is ignored, things aren’t going to improve.  Change is possible – EQAO regularly publicizes previously low performing schools that have shaken things up and changed drastically changed their performance in relatively short windows of time.

For schools to improve, though, administrative mindsets need to change. They need to take EQAO results seriously, and use them for school wide program advancement. I recently read a communication by an elementary school administrator from a very low achieving school in which they disregarded an underperforming EQAO achievement as circumstantial and not worth improving. That was disappointing, but not surprising based on my knowledge of that particular school. If EQAO results were given more clout by board administrators, perhaps their attitude would be less complacent.

Pretending literacy and numeracy skills don’t matter because your school underperforms is not ok. Why not own it and work to improve said results step by step each year by developing school wide literacy and numeracy programming, including extra support and adding new teaching methodology? Why not pair high performing and low performing schools as a buddy system, for the higher performing school to mentor the lower performing school so that their students can achieve higher levels of success? Why not own the challenge and make a plan – any plan for improvement?

As previously mentioned, although EQAO results are only one part of the picture of school achievement, they often coincide with other factors of school success. If very low performing red flag schools were identified as needing a full shake up, perhaps changing administration/teaching staff, giving that school more supports for extracurricular programming and human resources/infrastructure to support innovative teaching methods could create an overhaul that would change the atmosphere and mindset at the given institution.

Final Word

EQAO testing exists for a reason, but it certainly isn’t perfect. We want our students (all our students) to strive for a particular level of achievement in basic literacy and numeracy skills, and right now EQAO offers the only standardized assessments given to students in Ontario that are not biased by subjective marking by classroom teachers. If based on these evaluations, literacy and numeracy levels are being met school wide, then the members of that institution should be dully celebrated for their success, especially if this success is repetitious. Moreover, if schools are not demonstrating improvement on EQA0 testing results and/or showing consistently very low scores, then that school needs to be red flagged for some kind of intensive support, not have their results hidden from the general public.

What is your opinion on celebrating the success of schools with high EQAO achievement? Are they getting slighted? Also, should underperforming schools be targeted for serious interventions and additional supports, both in terms of human resources and infrastructure? Leave your comments below.

 

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