This week EQAO released its review of provincial testing scores and it again raised questions about whether or the relatively poor performance of students on math is due to the curriculum or the test.

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This was different by the way than the interpretation that EQAO put on the results. They said the that Grade 6 results were “stable’ with a small decline (1%) at Grade 3. (Incidentally reading scores either went up or stayed the same and writing went down by 1% but apparently we don’t care about literacy any more).

When I was asked for my opinion I said:

“There’s a ‘mismatch’ between the test and how children are learning in the classroom. The curriculum emphasizes group problem solving and expressing understanding in a variety of ways. To me, the test needs to change. It needs to be open and more reflective of the kinds of ways students are learning and getting to express their understanding,”

This summer two of my sons were preparing to take their driving test. They learned the rules of the road and relevant laws in class and spent 15 hours on the road with an instructor. They also spent a lot of time practicing on their own.

They’ll be tested by driving on the road in conditions similar to what they’ll encounter. They’ll receive immediate feedback about how they did and they’ll have a chance to re-test if they need it.

So why is getting a driving license based on better pedagogy and involve more authentic assessment than EQAO?

Mathematics in my, and most other Ontario classrooms, is a creative exploration. Students learn actively through a variety different of methods. They ask questions, they solve problems, they fail, they try again, they discuss and explain to others. Through that process they learn, and if they need more time to work something out, they get more time.

Is it any surprise then, that some students struggle to express that understanding or apply their learning strategies under EQAO conditions? Pencil and paper, time pressure, no helpful anchor charts on the walls and no asking questions. This is like testing people on driving without putting them behind the wheel.

In his book “Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of MathematicsSunil Singh makes the case that our traditional view on mathematics is wrong and that “…we were born to love mathematics“. He calls our traditional view of math education a “…slow, death march through education’s desert”. This is the EQAO approach to education and testing. Dry, structured and formal.

Over the past decade our approaches to math education have shifted. Traditional methods aren’t gone. My students will still be learning multiplication facts. But these traditional methods are now supplemented by a whole new range of learning strategies and EQAO testing just hasn’t kept pace with the changes in pedagogy.

When we are faced with test results, especially if they’re disappointing, our inclination is to dive straight into analysis and start strategizing how we can change the results. But there is another possibility. We can also consider whether the test might be wrong. Perhaps the results don’t reflect the learning. Instead of calling for a review of the curriculum or our instructional methods, we should be calling for a review of how we’re testing.