This week I attended a public engagement session for the independent review of Ontario’s assessment and reporting practices. Early on in the session it was evident that most of the attendees were frustrated with EQAO testing and how it has changed the culture of learning and schools in the province.

The facilitators tried, sometimes unsuccessfully, to move attendees past expressing frustration and toward suggesting solutions. If the review is going to be more than just an opportunity to vent, we must quickly start asking “how can we fix this?” and “what comes next?”.

In that vein, here are four practices, three of which are currently used in large-scale testing in other jurisdictions, that might address some of the concerns and start to change the culture that’s grown up around 30 years of EQAO. This isn’t an exhaustive list, there are other ideas, but they do address some of my main concerns with EQAO as it’s currently practiced in Ontario.

Respecting Professional Judgement

Carole Campbell, who is leading the assessment review, suggested on social media that Scotland’s new assessment system is worthy of review.

The Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) assesses students in four different years (grades 1, 4, 7 and the 3rd year of secondary). The test is administered online and takes, on average, 45 minutes. One interesting feature of the SNSA is that teachers decide when to administer the test.

Teacher’s can choose to administer the test at the start of the year so that have that information to inform their teaching practice, during the school year at a time that doesn’t disrupt the normal learning or at the end of the school year to determine of students have reached the expectations for their grade level.

Local Control

The US is the home of bubble and pencil test. US students are some of the most heavily tested in the world and standardized testing has been part of the American educational landscape for a long time. So it’s ironic that some of the most creative efforts to innovate and change how testing is done is coming from south of the 49th parallel.

Schools in Tacoma, Washington have locally developed goals for achievement in Academic Excellence, Partnership, Early Learning and Safety. These goals are extensive, have measurable targets and were developed in consultation with all the local stakeholders. They reflect the current state of the local schools and the values and expectations of the local communities they serve.

Imagine a system in Ontario where different schools have different goals and expectations. These goals are clearly articulated and publicly committed to. Doesn’t that make more sense? Goals that reflect the communities that each school serves and that give each school something to move towards. A public recognition that schools are unique and about more than just academics, but also about connections with parents, community and making students feel connected.

Performance Tasks

Schools in New Hampshire, under the PACE Program, are piloting a system where teachers create performance tasks to assess progress on statewide competencies. Teachers create tasks that test the competencies and reflect their local needs. The tasks are submitted to the state board for approval. Once approved, performance tasks are administered and evaluated by teachers from another school and the evaluations submitted.

Tenth grade math students at Sanborn High are challenged to design a community water tower and then create a proposal that could be presented to the town. Imagine, students demonstrating their learning in a meaningful way.

Respecting Students

One of the biggest problems with EQAO is the refusal to consider student voice. No matter what students want or think, their input is not valued in any way. They can’t even opt out of the test if they want.

I propose adding a choice to the tests. Several different types of questions or tasks where students can choose which one works best for them. Allow students to choose a fixed number of questions to ensure all the required expectations are covered. Show students that this is something being done with students, not to them

This strategy would be particularly important for students with learning exceptionalities. As Krista Sarginson has pointed out, designing a test for mainstream students, and then making it “accessible” misses the point.

Adopting these ideas won’t fix EQAO overnight, but they will signal a change that the culture of testing in Ontario is changing, that may be more transformative than any changes to the actual test.