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Standardized tests for Ontario teachers doesn’t necessarily improve student scores: report

The EQAO literature review found that while many studies show a positive correlation between teachers' scores and student outcomes, it is only weakly to moderately predictive of student performance.
The EQAO literature review found that while many studies show a positive correlation between teachers' scores and student outcomes, it is only weakly to moderately predictive of student performance. Getty Images

TORONTO – Giving teachers standardized tests often doesn’t lead to better outcomes for students, the agency tasked with developing a new math test for Ontario teachers said in a report this week.

The review by the Education Quality and Accountability Office of existing research on compulsory teacher competency testing was released days after the provincial government revealed details of a standardized math test it will soon require new teachers to pass.

Starting at the end of this academic year, new teachers will have to score at least 70 per cent on the test to register with the teachers’ college.

READ MORE: Ontario teachers will have to score at least 70% on math tests: memo

The Progressive Conservative government has repeatedly promised to take measures to improve student math scores, which have been declining for a decade across the province.

But the EQAO literature review found that while many studies show a positive correlation between teachers’ scores and student outcomes, it is only weakly to moderately predictive of student performance.

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In fact, teacher experience, grades from college or university, the number of post-secondary math courses they have taken and professional math certification courses are all better predictors of student outcomes, the EQAO said.

“While these tests may receive support from policymakers, educators and the public, the fundamental goal of these tests – to improve student learning – is often not met,” the agency said in the report.

“Current research demonstrates that standardized teacher tests is not linked with a level of performance consistency that justifies their widespread implementation at this time. The use of caution with these tests is advised by many researchers on the basis that these tests are not consistently associated with the positive benefits that are often claimed.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government is strengthening the foundation of mathematics primarily through a four-year, $200-million math strategy and updating the curriculum with a “back to basics” approach.

WATCH: Ontario government to invest $200 million in new strategy aimed at raising math scores (Aug. 28, 2019)

Ontario government to invest $200 million in new strategy aimed at raising math scores
Ontario government to invest $200 million in new strategy aimed at raising math scores

“(The test) is a component of the broader vision,” he said. “It is certainly not the central vehicle, but it helps to create a metric.”

Lecce noted the positive correlation in the EQAO report between teacher testing and student outcomes, specifically referencing a North Carolina study that showed an increase of between three and six per cent in student achievement when teachers pass a standardized test used in the United States.

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“The bottom line for me is ensuring there’s a way to measure success, measure improvement and raise the bar. In the absence of having a metric…We’re never going to know in good faith if we are serving our children well and they are getting the education they need.”

Teachers’ unions have criticized the government’s plan to test all new teachers in math, questioning the relevance of calculus to a kindergarten teacher or math skills for a drama teacher.

READ MORE: Ontario elementary students’ math scores decline on EQAO test

“The EQAO study demonstrates exactly why knee-jerk political responses are the worst way to make education policy,” Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said in a statement.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said the study clearly shows teacher testing has no impact on student achievement.

“ETFO has been very clear that professional development for teachers, not testing, is what is important,” said union president Sam Hammond in a statement.

EQAO chair Cameron Montgomery, a failed Progressive Conservative candidate whose appointment caused a stir this year, said the most important component of the report is that there are varying results.

READ MORE: Cellphone ban to take effect for students in Ontario classrooms by November 2019

“The agency is reporting on what they’re finding in terms of the literature, the scientific literature,” he said. “This literature review is not peer reviewed, it’s a document that has been commissioned, that looks at different findings.”

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Montgomery said in his opinion Ontario teachers will face a “non-threatening math proficiency” test and said the 70-per-cent bar is a good threshold.

There isn’t a “perfect relationship” between a teacher’s knowledge of a subject, such as math, and their results on a standardized test, and there is even less of a relationship between their pedagogical knowledge – how to teach the subject – and their test results, the EQAO report said.

The EQAO report also said that there are potential negative impacts of such tests for teachers, including a bias against marginalized groups. Multiple studies have found that the pass rate on standardized teacher competency tests is significantly lower for people of colour, the report said.

WATCH: Stephen Lecce says math test scores for Grade 6 students released by EQAO are staggering (Aug. 28, 2019)

Stephen Lecce says math test scores for Grade 6 students released by EQAO are staggering
Stephen Lecce says math test scores for Grade 6 students released by EQAO are staggering