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As previously discussed EQAO has announced that the technical failure of the online OSSLT was due to “an intentional, malicious and sustained Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack—a type of cyberattack.” However some evidence has surfaced that contradicts those claims.

ICT Educator Elliot Royle tweeted  a link to the Digital Attack Map for October 20, 2016.

The Digital Attack Map “presents data gathered and published by Arbor Networks ATLAS global threat intelligence system” and shows all the DDoS attacks that happen around the world on any given day. It shows the source, target and duration of any DDoS attacks on that day.

A typical day like October 19th looks like this:

As you can see there were three DDoS attacks that day, targeting Brazil, The US and Great Britain. As is typical the sources of the attacks are routed through countries all around the world.

Here is the Digital Attack Map for October 20th, the day EQAO said the OSSLT was taken down by a DDOS:

As you can see this map looks very different. There is some distributed traffic and an attack centred on Turkey, but no attacks converging on Canada. Not one.

As another point of comparison, here’s the Digital Attack Map for October 21st, the day of the massive Dyn DDoS attack, the largest ever (so far):

Again, this looks quite different than the activity of October 20th when the OSSLT was cancelled.

So what can we make of this? There are only a few options.

The Digital Attack Map may be wrong. Arbour admits that while the “data represented in the Digital Attack Map is sourced from one of the most complete data sets available, it is an incomplete picture. The data may misidentify or exclude attack activity, and is intended to present high level trends in significant attacks as they are observed by Arbor Networks”.

There may have been an insignificant attack that doesn’t show on the map, but then EQAO’s system should have been able to withstand an insignificant attack.

Another option is that the failure of the online OSSLT wasn’t caused by a DDoS at all. This would be consistent with the reports by teachers that the MIST platform failed when it was tested last March and it crashed when it was used by Tennessee schools in February.

Perhaps EQAO can explain why Arbor Networks didn’t detect a DDoS attack on the day they said one took down the OSSLT?

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After some trials in March of 2016, EQAO scheduled a large scale trial of The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) on October 20th and was set to accommodate up to 250,00 students in two sittings. It was a no-lose proposition for any students that chose to write it, because if they passed the online version they could avoid writing the test in its regular pencil and paper version in March, 2017. If they failed, they could still write it again later.

The day before EQAO was confident they were prepared for any potential technical issues:

But even as EQAO was wishing students good luck it became obvious they weren’t as prepared as they’d previously thought:

EQAO remained confident that this was a minor problem even though teachers assured them that it was anything but minor:

After an hour’s delay EQAO continued to insist that students wait in the assessment rooms:

It took almost 3 hours before EQAO announced (on social media) that they were cancelling the test:

At 6:23 pm on October 20th EQAO released an official statement apologizing for the cancellation, saying they didn’t know what had happened and would be investigating the cause. Over ten hours since they’d known there was a problem and EQAO still hadn’t figured out what happened.

There was no further comment from EQAO for four days, but On October 24th they announced that the test had been cancelled due to “…an intentional, malicious and sustained” type of cyberattack, a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack. Coincidentally, this was the same type of attack that took out large parts of the internet in Europe and North America on October 21st.

Since then the students and educators involved, and the province in general, have been trying to figure out exactly what happened. Education Minister Mitzie Hunter called it “extremely disappointing” and Education Critic Lisa Gretzky wondered about the costs of the failed test:

Around all this discussion is a sense of uneasiness. A feeling that we don’t have the full story about what really happened. There are so many unanswered questions.

For example:

Why did the EQAO attack last so long and take so long to identify?

The EQAO Attack lasted three hours and 10 hours later it still hadn’t been identified as a DDoS attack. By comparison the massive Dyn Attack was identified almost immediately, the public was notified right away, and it was resolved in a little over two hours. Why did it take EQAO so long?

Who investigated ?

Apparently “IT experts and a third-party forensic team spent the weekend trying to figure out what happened” but who exactly did the investigation remains a mystery. Why? When tax dollars are being used why isn’t there full and transparent disclosure?

What successful trials?

Before and after October 20th EQAO mentioned repeatedly that they had conducted “several successful tests” of the OSSLT platform. However, some of the teachers involved in those tests dispute that they were “successful”, and said that the same issues that shut down the OSSLT on October 20th were present in the March tests.

Was the testing platform stable?

The online platform that EQAO was using for the OSSLT is called Measurement Incorporated Secure Testing (MIST), sold by Measurement Incorporated, a company based in North Carolina that “provides achievement tests and scoring services for state governments, other testing companies, and various organizations”.

The same platform had problems in February, 2016 when used for school testing in Tennessee that seem awfully similar to what happened in Ontario on October 20th.

There are also many implications for EQAO moving forward:

  • While the test was eventually cancelled some students were able to complete the online test (why??). Will those completed tests still be marked? If they aren’t, isn’t that unfair to those students who persevered?
  • EQAO stores millions pieces of data on students from eight years of age and older. Given what happened on October 20th, how can Ontario parents remain confident that personal information about their children will remain private when testing becomes online?
  • Will we ever know what happened? Richard Jones, director of assessment for EQAO said “I’m not sure if this kind of thing can ever be figured out,” which won’t fill anyone with confidence.
  • Should EQAO have been better prepared for what happened. Cyber security lawyer Imran Ahmad thinks so:

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Ontarians should know what happened, why it happened and what EQAO is doing to prevent it from ever happening again. Our students and families deserve that. A confused shrug from Richard Jones isn’t good enough.

 

 

 

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Welcome to the era of Pokemon Go and moral panic.

Pokemon Go has conquered over the world, and it only took a weekend. After a global rollout on July 6th Niantic‘s augmented reality game Pokemon Go has simultaneously destroyed the online gaming world, rewritten the records for active users and app downloads, and in the process become an internet and social phenomenon. Of course, Pokemon Go’s takeover of our collective consciousness didn’t happen without a few hiccups.

In less than a month Pokemon Go has, according to mainstream media, been responsible for:

Along with a whole host of other bizarre mishaps, while also having a fatwa against it as an “un-Islamic” game.

Read More

Macro shot of A- on white results sheet. Extremely shallow focus.

In June of 2016 I wrote something on the future of report cards for TVO.org. Here’s an excerpt:

The digital revolution has transformed every area of our lives by changing how we send, receive and use information. Information is plentiful, easily accessible and flows freely and at high speeds, allowing people to make better, more effective decisions. The use of information technology has transformed many of the ways we educate students, with one notable exception – the school report card.

Twice a year parents open envelopes containing folded sheets of paper and see five months of learning reduced to letter grades or percentages and a few comments. Educators decide how to effectively communicate a student’s learning journey, and which of the thousands of learning moments are significant and deserve to be shared.

If this sounds a lot like the kind of mass communication your parents would feel comfortable with, it is. Many aren’t surprised we still use such an antiquated system, because schools are often criticized for being outdated and slow to modernize. Fortunately, there’s evidence that how educators communicate about learning is finally moving into the digital age.

Click here to read the full article

Shortly after I was invited to speak on the CBC Radio show Ontario Morning to discuss digital report cards. Here is that interview:

 

 

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Concerns about the impacts and effectiveness of French Immersion programs aren’t new. As Ayesha Barmania wrote in “La Vie Bilingue: French immersion programs in Canada through the ages” school boards have been dealing with the same problems with French Immersion for almost forty years.

Seven years ago Kristin Rushowy wrote about how French Immersion schools in Oakville (Halton District School Board, HDSB) were “driving students out of their neighbourhood in search of an English program“. Rushowy revisited the issue in 2014 and found the same issues were now cropping up in Burlington (also HDSB).

I began writing about French Immersion on this blog in February of 2013, and then later that year in The Globe and Mail. Shortly after my piece was published in The Globe and Mail I was interviewed by a Vancouver radio station about French Immersion.

 

In 2015 I was interviewed for “Just say ‘non’: The problem with French immersion“. It was, in a way, a follow-up to “8 things I wish I’d known about French immersion” where parent and writer Emma Waverman wrote about her frustrations with French Immersion. Particularly compelling is Waverman’s insight that the French Immersion curriculum is often boring and outdated, using lots of rote learning. Waverman also mentioned that it’s challenging for many parents to support FI learning at home when they don’t speak the language.

This year, The Globe and Mail’s Caroline Alphonso applied a much needed critical perspective to French Immersion programs in Canadian schools. Alphonso’s investigative articles kicked off a month of meaningful public debate about the implications of the French Immersion program for public education in Canada.

Alphonso’s “The Shrinking English Classroom” in March was followed closely by Kelly Egan’s “How French immersion swallowed Ottawa’s English public school board“. Both pieces explored the impact that the uncontrolled growth of French Immersion programs is having on the education of all students.

Egan wondered whether the growth of French Immersion would lead to English becoming a “speciality program” in the English Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB). Worryingly, Pino Buffone, the OCDSB’s superintendent of curriculum responded “That’s possible, depending on the interests of our parents and guardians.” English a marginal program in an English language school board. Hmmm…

In February The OCDSB made changes to address some of the problems they were experiencing with French Immersion.  Starting in September 2016, all KG classes will be French Immersion (50% French, 50 % English) and math in French Immersion classes (grade 1-3) will be taught English. Why did they decide to make these changes?

OCDSB trustee Donna Blackburn explained:

“I think the piece around equity was very important to me, that we have lower uptakes in the French immersion program for certain groups of students. People coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, English language learners, students with disabilities, and male students … take early French immersion and middle French immersion at lower rates than the rest of the population.”

Even in Ottawa, Canada’s most bilingual city, French Immersion classes aren’t reflective of the school population. If Ottawa is struggling to make French Immersion work, what hope is there for the rest of Canada?

Shortly after the OCDSB decision I was invited to discuss my thoughts about some of the problems with French Immersion on the CBC Radio show The 180 .

 

In late May Alphonso wrote that HDSB trustees were considering delaying students entry into French Immersion until Grade 2, and increasing the amount of French language instruction from 50% to 100%. Alphonso’s “Ontario schools struggle to keep students in French immersion” reported that half of elementary French Immersion students drop out of the program before they enter high school.

Globe and Mail columnist Marcus Gee followed this up a few days later with his column “French immersion could do with a dose of reality.” Gee called on school boards to evaluate whether French Immersion is actually working:

But the whole program needs a good hard look. Enrolment in immersion is soaring. School boards are struggling to meet the demand. It’s a good time to examine whether it is working as it should.”

Margaret Wente agreed that there are many problems with French Immersion.

Peel DSB Superintendent Poleen Grewal and I were interviewed on CBC’s Metro Morning about some of the problems with French Immersion and The HDSB’s upcoming decision.

 

The next day I did a similar interview with Wei Chen on the CBC show Ontario Morning.

 

Finally Cross Country Canada hosted a national call in show to the discuss the question: “Has French immersion for school children failed to live up to its promise?

The concerns raised about French Immersion programs over these last few months are:

  1. French Immersion is negatively affecting the quality of education offered to non-FI students.
  2. French Immersion classrooms don’t reflect the diversity of Canadian society. French Immersion students are more likely to be richer, better educated, girls, native English speakers, non-immigrant, white and less likely to have special education needs.
  3. The rate of attrition from French Immersion programs is unacceptably high.
  4. There aren’t enough qualified French Immersion teachers and resources to offer a high quality program.
  5. French Immersion isn’t very effective at teaching students how to be fluent in French (i.e. many have stated the goal of FI is to produce bilingual citizens).

There was really only one substantive mainstream reply to this maelstrom of criticism, and it didn’t really come from the French Immersion “community”. Graham Fraser, The Commissioner of Official Languages, wrote in The Globe and Mail “Of course French immersion is not perfect“. In this piece, Mr, Fraser basically agrees that, yes, there are problems with French Immersion, but argues that the benefits outweigh them. Not exactly a stunning endorsement.

The largest advocacy group for French Immersion, Canadian Parents for French, kept mostly to the fringes of the discussion and continued their grass-roots lobbying of school board trustees. This make s sense, because, ultimately, their goal isn’t to ensure we have a healthy, functioning public education system, but rather to make sure that, no matter the cost, French Immersion, in it’s current form, will endure.

It now falls to our elected officials, the school board trustees and Members of Provincial Parliament to step forward and begin an evaluation of French Immersion. Until that happens, they are avoiding their responsibility to ensure that all students have the an education that meets their needs.

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