By Bruce Rodrigues, Chief Executive Officer, EQAO
Education has always been important to society, but never more so than in our information- and service-based economy. It is education that prepares the children of today to become the citizens and workforce of tomorrow. In Ontario, the publicly funded school system delivers most formal education to students. It makes sense, then, that significant public resources are invested to ensure that the public education system is of the highest possible quality. It also makes sense that a great deal of attention is dedicated to evaluating the effectiveness of public schools. Discussions about school effectiveness are important and deserve to be had properly. They shouldn’t consider just one or two factors.
Imagine your doctor took your blood pressure, found it to be high, and ordered immediate bypass surgery. You’d be shocked at such a major decision being made based on only one symptom. “The body is a complex system,” you’d say. “Shouldn’t we run some more tests?” When it comes to the education system, however, people seem ready to make overall judgments based on very little data. Assessing school effectiveness is complex and requires evidence from many sources to be done properly.
There’s a great deal of research, including some by EQAO (see Resources), that shows that many different factors contribute to school effectiveness. To understand how well a school is doing, we need to ask many questions. To name but a few: How are the students achieving, and in what areas are they facing challenges? How strong is the principal’s leadership? Is a focus on learning and improvement embraced by all? How effective are the teaching practices? How safe and positive is the school culture? How committed are staff to continuous development and upgrading their skills? How are parents involved in supporting learning at home?
When it comes to understanding how students are achieving academically, the results of EQAO tests are certainly one important gauge. The provincial tests measure how well students are meeting key curriculum expectations in reading, writing and math. This information helps schools and boards to identify students’ learning needs and put targeted programs in place to meet them. Literacy and numeracy are, of course, not the only areas of student achievement that matter, but they are certainly essential. EQAO data are an objective, reliable measure of student skills in these areas and are the only data that are publicly available and reported in relation to a common standard for all schools and boards across the province. Using EQAO data to monitor progress and inform improvement planning—alongside data from other sources, such as classroom assessment—is one of the hallmarks of truly effective school systems. This has been shown time and again in the research about effective schools and in the
school stories EQAO has compiled over the past almost 10 years.
There has been a great deal of public discussion about the quality of Ontario schools over the past few months, particularly about the teaching and learning of math in light of recent provincial and international test results showing a decline in students’ achievement in this area. I have been greatly encouraged by how engaged parents and the rest of the public have been in this discussion and how much attention has been given to student achievement data. Evaluating how well our schools are preparing our students for successful futures is an appropriate—and important—task. Ongoing evaluation is critical both for continuous improvement in the school system and for ensuring the system remains accountable to the public. The quality of this evaluation is directly related to the quality of the data on which it is based, however. Examining all of the relevant sources of credible evidence, in the proper context, is the only way to ensure that our discussions, and any decisions that may come out of them, are reasonable and productive.
EQAO is pleased to be a fundamental source of evidence about student achievement in Ontario. Much as it’s important to monitor blood pressure because it’s one key indicator of overall health, it’s important to monitor provincial test results because they are one of the key indicators of overall school effectiveness. These vital signs should be considered along with other evidence if school effectiveness is to be properly assessed.
Characteristics of High- and Low-Achieving English-Language Schools
This bulletin summarizes an EQAO study to better understand school and teacher practices that contribute to higher student achievement on the primary- and junior-division provincial tests.
Exploring the Underlying Traits of High-Performing Schools This article presents an overview of research that has identified key aspects of effective schools and provides educators with important ideas for enhancing school improvement efforts.
Strategies That Work For Schools: Thinking Globally in the Postmodern World This article uses a global context as an analogy to explore successful educational practices. The themes that appear have been demonstrated in countless schools across Ontario.
“School Stories: on the Journey of Learning” These case studies detail how schools across Ontario use EQAO and other data to address areas for improvement.