Is testing what is needed to get teachers to work harder?: Checking out Ontario’s Progress Report on Education

So…I received an interesting email message yesterday from the Ontario Premier’s office:


My name is Grahame Rivers. I’m the social media coordinator in the Ontario Premier’s Office. I wanted to let you know that Ontario has released it’s progress report on education.

Based on the family focus of your blog, I thought this might be helpful information to provide your readers.

Ontario schools have smaller class sizes, higher test scores, talented teachers, and more students graduating and going on to college, university or apprenticeship programs. Based on international test scores and evaluation, Ontario has one of the top 10 education systems in the world.

This information has been pulled together in a web-friendly format and can be found here: and a video can be found here:

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thank you,


Grahame Rivers
Social Media Coordinator
Office of the Premier of Ontario
d. 416 325 1807
c. 416 562 4516

And so I clicked through and checked out the progress report. According to the data it has released, it seems to be true. Numbers seem to be going up (or down, depending on the desired direction) in all the right areas.

I’ve had a little under a year’s experience in the Ontario public school system, at a rural school in Eastern Ontario. One thing I can certainly attest to is that the teachers in this school are amongst the hardest working teachers I’ve met. They are held, and hold themselves, accountable for the learning that goes on in their classrooms and in those of their colleagues. Learning is shared, planned for, and reflected on. Both within the classrooms and within the staff room, learning is deliberate.

And then there’s EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) – that’s the ‘higher test scores’ the province is so proud of. I’ve heard Grade 3 and 6 teachers talk about EQAO testing as this anomaly in their teaching year. It’s like there’s teaching and learning and then there’s EQAO. Teachers are under pressure to improve test scores but not help their students succeed on the test. Students in all testing grades (3, 6, 9, & 10) are stressed about it. Looking at what that really means shows us stressed out 8 year olds. ETFO (Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario) has called for a moratorium on the testing. The following is from the ETFO website, as part of their official stance on the EQAO testing:

EQAO’s most recent annual report indicates expenses of $33 million in 2009-10. A further $77 million is spent by the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat designing and mandating programs designed to improve test scores. And individual boards spend more. Think about what that money could do if it were spent on education instead…

Sobering, isn’t it. That’s over 100 million dollars directed towards testing.

Teachers hate testing because it takes away from the ‘real stuff’ of teaching. I hate standardised testing because I like to craft what happens in my classroom based on the people in the room and not an arbitrary test. BUT. Numbers are rising. There are more graduates. More literate students. Because of this goal to raise test scores, teachers are collaborating to improve literacy and numeracy skills.

Is all of this worth teacher and student stress?

Is there a way to improve literacy and numeracy without the EQAO testing pressure?


Is testing the thing that is needed to get teachers to work harder?


Spinning Report Card Comments

I’m on the outside this term, watching my colleagues grapple with report cards from facebook and twitter sidelines while I play with Jack who is now a little over 4 months old. Look how cute he is :)


One of my colleagues posted this video today and it made me think about those comments we come up with for those students who we sometimes just wish would sit down. keep quiet, make nice, follow the rules already. How much less the world could be if they did.


Report Card Jargon and Teacher/Parent communication

Even though I was already on maternity leave 2 months before our first report cards (note that a ‘progress’ report was issued in November) were sent home I graded and wrote comments for my students based on the first part of the year and gave those marks/comments to the teacher who replaced me who could then use them as a baseline for her own assessments.

Last June was my first experience with writing report cards in Ontario and I was struck with how jargony we can get as teachers. In Ontario, Jargonese is mandated by the government who guides teachers in the language that is used on report cards in an effort to maintain consistency across schools and school boards. The idea is a good one – when a child moves from one school to another it is helpful if we can understand where the child is coming from so we can most effectively (and quickly) help him or her. The problem is that not only are the comments filled with educational jargon that parents need help with decoding (and to be honest, some teachers need help with getting what they really mean at times as well!) but the creation of the comments, as well as the process of inputting them into the report card system, is laborious to say the least.

In Quebec (at least at the secondary level. I haven’t taught at the elementary level in Quebec since before new report cards have been used) we were at the opposite pole – instead of teacher-written lengthy comments filled with jargon we could only use canned comments like satisfactory or absence hinders progress.

In both cases the effectiveness of parent/teacher communication is, er, limited, don’t you think? If reporting is meant to be a way of communicating with parents then what can we really say about teacher-parent communication? And if we want to argue that it isn’t… then why are we still using report cards? I’ve always found that the most effective form of communication between families and teachers is through conversation. And many teachers DO talk to parents on a regular basis so that everyone is on the same page.

I don’t know. It all seems to be extra work for the teacher when we could better spend our time planning, reflecting, thinking about active engagement with students. There’s GOT to be a better way!

What do you think?

A colleague pointed me towards this Xtranormal video on the ‘effectiveness’ of Report Card lingo for communicating with parents.

Why do we put so many layers between teachers and parents? sigh…