By Marguerite Jackson, Chief Executive Officer, EQAO
A new independent survey by the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) has been released and it reports continued and widespread support for EQAO’s province-wide testing program. Large majorities of the general public and of parents favour the provincial assessment of all students, the survey finds. This high level of support has been sustained for many years.
Broad Support for Provincial Testing of Every Student
18th OISE Survey of Educational Issues: Public Attitudes Toward Education in Ontario, 2012 probed the views of more than 1000 people across the province. Among many other topics, the survey asked respondents a number of questions related to EQAO’s provincial testing program.
The survey found that 70% of all respondents agreed that “Province-wide tests should be used to assess the performance of each high school student.” The proportion of respondents valuing this kind of student assessment has remained large since this question was first asked in OISE’s 1984 survey—it has never fallen below 60%. When asked about the testing of elementary school students, almost two-thirds (64%) supported province-wide testing, with the majority (53%) favouring the assessment of every student. Testing all students was by far the preferred option and was selected more often than all other choices combined (See Table 1).
“Which of the following is closest to your view about province-wide testing for elementary school students?”
Provincial Testing Supports System Accountability
One of the primary roles of the provincial testing program is to provide a window into the publicly funded school system, thereby supporting accountability for student achievement. Indeed, when asked whether they believed “EQAO’s provincial testing program helps keep the education system accountable to parents and taxpayers,” nearly two-thirds of all respondents (64%) agreed that it did. This confirms a finding from research EQAO undertook with parents in 2009, which demonstrated that 69% of parents believed the provincial testing program helps keep the system accountable.
The positive educational impact of provincial testing
According to the OISE survey, two-thirds (67%) of all respondents believed the results of EQAO’s provincial testing program are or can be used to improve the quality of education in Ontario (see Table 2). This too confirmed the findings from EQAO’s parent survey, which showed that 74% of parents thought that provincial testing results were being used to improve education.
“The results of EQAO’s provincial testing program are being [can be] used to improve the quality of education in Ontario.”
Survey respondents were presented with a series of factors and asked how much impact they thought each one had on student achievement. The factors respondents believed to have the most impact included the availability of more special education teachers, getting parents more involved in reading to their children and reducing class sizes. Using province- wide tests to measure student achievement was believed to have approximately the same amount of impact as universal junior kindergarten. Two-thirds of respondents (66%) believed that using province-wide tests to measure how students are doing has at least a moderate impact on improving student achievement (see Table 3).
“How much would using province-wide tests to measure how students are doing help students?”
What gets attention improves
According to the OISE research, 75% of respondents thought that EQAO testing causes teachers to devote at least somewhat more attention to the subjects tested. What gets tested gets attention and as a consequence improves. Ontario’s provincial testing program focuses on reading, writing and math skills—which are the foundation for all other learning.
The focused, system-wide consideration given to these critical skills now regularly causes literacy and numeracy to be reinforced in all subject areas, not just in language and math classes. In turn, we have seen evidence that tens of thousands more students are excelling in these fundamental skills than were 15 years ago, before the provincial testing program was initiated. Strong literacy and math skills are critical for all students if they are to be able to participate in all the full curriculum has to offer.
The OISE study provides new evidence of public support for the provincial testing program while at the same time identifying areas we as an agency should be mindful of as we move forward. We are interested to note, for example, that while almost two- thirds of the parents (63%) and almost one-half of the general public (45%) surveyed remembered having heard or read about provincial testing results over the last year, only a relatively small proportion (29% overall) knew of EQAO’s main role.
This will continue to be a focus as we work with our education partners to ensure parents and the public fully understand the work of this agency and its role in helping education professionals and policy-makers support student achievement across the province.
We are committed to ensuring that we continue to provide valuable and reliable information to students, parents, educators and educational leaders that helps improve educational outcomes for all Ontario students. We are proud of the work that we do in support of student achievement and gratified to receive confirmation from this new survey that the public values this work as well.