On February 26th I published “Opting Out of EQAO“, where I shared stories from parents who chose, for a variety of reasons, to ensure that their children did not write the annual EQAO tests. One of the stories contained more, so I offerred my blog to share the full story. This is the unedited story, written by Danielle Turpin, about her two children Ethan and Olivia and how and why they are opting out of EQAO testing.

As spring draws close again, and the hope of warmer weather fills us all, it is the time in the educational cycle where students, teachers, parents, administrators and elected trustees all realize that the EQAO tests are right around the corner.

Students worry that they won’t do well, teachers worry that the EQAO tests will somehow expose them as ineffective, parents worry that little Jimmy or Suzie won’t make them proud, and administrators worry that their data set will be invalid and those higher up the food chain will call them to task.  The data will be largely unused to increase the quality of education, but politicians and real estate agents will find the information indispensable.  All of this will cost the taxpayer, according to some sources, the low figure of $33 million a year.  Money well spent?  Hardly.

I had decided to pull our son from the EQAO testing back when he was in Grade 3 in __________.  He had been identified through Toronto Western, as having Tourette Syndrome, ADHD and a communications-based learning disability.  He also has executive functioning and working memory issues.  Needless to say, the Principal of his elementary school was very easy to convince.  Looking back, she was almost EAGER to have him not write the test – in her head, having him write the test would risk lowering the average in his small Grade 3 class, skewing the numbers and probably making her look bad.  Ethan hung out with Grandma and Grandpa that week, and enjoyed himself immensely.

This year, things are slightly different.

Our son is in Grade 10, and should be writing the OSSLT this spring.

Our daughter, who has exhibited no signs of Tourette Syndrome or any learning disability and is consistently getting Level 4s, is in Grade 3 and should be writing the Grade 3 EQAO test this spring.

Neither one of them will actually be writing these tests this spring.

Our Son’s OSSLT Story

Ethan has had his difficulties at school sometimes, but he had never failed a high school course, and he has found a niche.  However, his schooling has always been difficult on all of us.  We have had numerous meetings with Principals and teacher, and we often leave these feeling frustrated and patronized.  Don’t get me wrong, some of his teachers have been wonderful.  His teacher through a lot of his elementary school years was phenomenal.  He obviously cared for his students and worked very hard to support our son.  But others have not accommodated his needs, connected to him in any way, and have blamed him for the consequences of his condition.  He is told that he should be better organized, that he should remember things, and that he needs to try harder.  To tell an ADHD student with Tourette Syndrome and learning disabilities to simply “Try Harder” is akin to telling a blind student just to “See Better”.  It is impractical, unhelpful, and insulting.  After receiving a 90% in Applied Grade 9 English, he was told on numerous occasions last semester by a teacher that he would probably fail the OSSLT – however, no extra help was offered in any way.

This year, we contacted the Special Education Head, his SERT and the Principal to let them know that Ethan will be deferring his EQAO test this year, as per the EQAO website.  After waiting a few days, the Principal returned my email, and set a date to discuss this.  We understand that the EQAO is a necessity to graduate, but there is also the OSSLC which may fit his needs better.   He is a hard worker, but does not test well, and he shouldn’t be compelled to fail the OSSLT publicly before he can take the course.   Ethan has said that if he is forced to write the test, he will simply skip, or he will sit there, and write nothing.  I don’t condone the skipping, but passively resisting is certainly well within his moral and legal rights.

I will update this when more information becomes available, but it will be interesting to see.

Our daughter’s Grade 3 EQAO Story

Olivia has never shown any sign of Ethan’s neurological issues.  She performs well in school, and is a quiet, self-motivated student.  Currently in the French Immersion program at her school, by all accounts, she is a dream student.  Typically, her lowest mark on any given report card would be a B, or a B+.  If she were to take her EQAO test, she would pass with flying colours.  She will still not write this test.

Initially, we had planned to pull Olivia from the EQAO and have her go stay with Grandma and Grandpa, as Ethan had done in years past.  But we had a quiet sense of unease about it.  If we disagree with this testing, and if it is wasteful and wrong, why should we be the ones that pull our child?  What lesson is actually being learned by NOT protesting, and simply running away?   The decision was also made clearer, when we learned that the school would not be telling us the actual test date.  In order to avoid students leaving on the day of the EQAO, they would inform parents of the two week period during which the test would be given.  To avoid the test, Olivia would then be forced to miss a full two weeks of education, and if she returned at any point during this ‘testing window’ they would make her write the test.

So, we contacted her Principal and her Teacher with the request that Olivia not write the EQAO test nor take part in the ‘pre-test’ activities  – our official request.

To our surprise, the Principal actually called our home quickly thereafter.  I explained that I did not want Olivia to write the test, and I didn’t want to pull her out for the two week period of the entire testing time frame.  The Principal asked if Olivia had any anxiety issues that would allow for an exemption from the test, which she does not.   She said that she would review the situation, and contact us again soon.  I thanked her for the quick response, and it was a friendly exchange, all told.

She responded very quickly after reviewing some EQAO material from the official webpage.  We were told that there were no pre-test activities and that the EQAO is a curriculum-based test without ANY classroom pre-teaching to the test – the official story, of course, which most people realize, is abjectly not the case.  She “cut and pasted” some information from the web, that essentially said that ALL grade 3 students are expected to participate.

We responded by thanking her for looking into this, and that we understand that the Board and Government of Ontario would like all students to write these tests, but unfortunately we are still in the same position.  Olivia will not be writing this test, nor will she be missing two weeks of school.

Then we asked what would happen if Olivia simply showed up during the Grade 3 Testing, and simply didn’t write anything.  Could they provide her with alternate learning materials, or should we?  Would she be made to write?  Would there be any punitive results from not writing?

The response we received was surprising.  The Principal explained that nothing would happen at all to Olivia, and that the only result would be a zero on this test, which doesn’t count towards anything anyways.  She can sit at her desk and not even open the booklet unless she gets a little curious.  She could read quietly, or doodle, or work on other materials.  There would be nothing punitive in any way.

We responded by thanking her again for her time, and telling her a small story about a positive experience that Olivia had with her English teacher recently, and the issue ended on a very pleasant note.

Final Thoughts

As the testing will not take place for a while, we obviously are unsure as to how this will all pan out in the future.   However, both our son and daughter are excited about the possibility of this minor rebellious act, and we are confident in that we have expressed our dissatisfaction with the current standardized testing paradigm, and not had to sacrifice our moral standards to do it.

Are we doing the right thing in our actions?  I am not completely certain, but I am certain that if we were to acquiesce then we would have been guilty of perpetuating these wasteful, purposeless tests.  At this point, the only way that these tests can be removed will be when the data that they provide will serve no useful function to the politicians, school boards, and commercial interests.  The only way that this can happen is if more and more parents chose to support their children in NOT writing these flawed evaluations.  Personally, I would love to see the day when an entire class of Grade 3s, Grade 6s, Grade 9s or Grade 10s simply refuse to write the test.