March 17, 2017
The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) has been working toward modernizing its provincial assessment program since 2014. EQAO’s shift from paper-based to online assessments mirrors classroom trends that see a greater emphasis on the use of digital technology. Students tend to engage more effectively with online assessments, as opposed to those that are paper-based. In the future, computer-facilitated assessments will also offer the potential to assess additional skills that cannot be measured by traditional paper-and-pencil tests.
“EQAO Online” is a multi-year project to move EQAO’s provincial student assessments from paper-and-pencil to computer-based. Through the project, a phased approach was envisioned to roll out all elements associated with computer-based testing. The intent was to begin with the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) and, after a successful launch, proceed with changes to the other EQAO assessments.
EQAO continues to manage all aspects of the assessment program, regardless of the mode of delivery.
Following research, consultations and smaller-scale tests of the system, a major milestone for the EQAO Online project was the online trial of the OSSLT on October 20, 2016. The trial was designed as a large-scale pilot test to gauge the system’s readiness prior to the regularly scheduled OSSLT in March 2017. The intent was to identify any remaining technical issues within the system before running the full assessment. Schools and school boards were invited to participate in the trial on a voluntary basis, and the decision to participate was theirs. As this was a trial, it was determined that any student who was not successful in October 2016 would still be considered first-time eligible to write the March 2017 assessment. Unfortunately, a malicious, intentional and targeted cyberattack disrupted the trial.
The day of the cyberattack, an independent third-party forensic firm, Deloitte, was retained by EQAO to conduct an investigation into the incident. The Toronto Police Service was also notified shortly thereafter and began a separate investigation.
All funding related to the move toward online assessments through the EQAO Online project has been allocated from EQAO’s regular operating budget and revenue generated by the agency.
The total cost of the EQAO Online project from August 1, 2014, to March 31, 2017, is approximately $11.8 million, of which approximately $4.9 million represent regular business activities, such as developing questions and scoring assessments, and of which $6.9 million is attributed to online systems research, development and implementation.
The EQAO Online project is still ongoing, and its work and investment to date have resulted in a number of specific benefits.
Significant work was done in the area of research and development, to design and implement an online program that could deliver EQAO’s large-scale assessments. This work includes
Through this project, EQAO has already enhanced its internal operations by
EQAO has also gained significant experience and insights into online assessments, to the point that it can now
The benefits that the project has already generated will help EQAO move forward with its vision of online assessments. Notwithstanding the cyberattack, EQAO remains confident that assessments can be successfully administered online in partnership with schools and school boards. EQAO remains committed to modernizing its assessment delivery in order to offer students the most authentic opportunities to demonstrate their learning (e.g., modes and supports that mirror their classroom and real-world experiences).
EQAO is discussing the implications of the Deloitte and Toronto Police Service findings with its business partners and stakeholders, and has welcomed feedback from the education community about any aspect of its move to online assessments. These considerations will help determine next steps and timelines regarding the return to online assessments.
EQAO is also working with its business partners to strengthen its IT security infrastructure, in order to better protect it against cyberattacks.