If I were asked to wager money on where the prickly points would be in the new agreements currently being negotiated between the Ontario Government and its teacher unions, I would have definitely placed most of my money on the reduction of sick day benefits. There doesn’t seem to be much hoopla, however, over the fact that teachers will have 10 instead of 20 days from which to draw each year. There don’t seem to be many fists raised in anger over the fact that there will be no banking of any portion of those unused days from year to year. And people don’t seem to be jumping up and down over the loss of a large percentage of the available Professional Development Days through the imposed “Dalton Day’s” in the second year of the contract.
I really thought that I would hear more reaction to these parts of the agreement.
Instead, the real thorny issue has to do with the idea that individual teachers will now have individual control of the assessment practice in their individual classrooms.
At first blush, this doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. After all, assessment has always been a major responsibility of the teaching professional: it is meant to be continuous, ongoing, and responsive to the needs of individual students.
The problem is that, over the past several years, we’ve created a very tightly woven and complex ball of school, district and ministry-based expectations around what it means to be a successful student. And if you begin to unravel the ball, layer by layer, eventually you’re going to come to the very centre—the core—which is the annual EQAO test report. The Grade 3, 6, and 9 data sets that are released each year, reported in the media and used by organizations like the Frazer Institute to report on school quality, have become the official raison d’etre of each and every district, school and teacher in this province.
So, in looking more closely at the issue that threatens peace and stability in Ontario schools this fall, it really isn’t about teachers deciding which assessment might be best for their particular class at a given time in the year. It’s really about school districts losing control over one of the important components of that ball—one that allows them to hold pretty tight reigns on the educational agenda and their sense of confidence that teachers are focusing on what is going to result in improved test scores.
In most Ontario elementary schools two rather formal assessments are administered by each teacher each year. The results of these assessments may or may not be factored into term reporting, but they are collected and analyzed at both the school and district level in order to assist in the selection of teaching strategies, the setting of multi-level plans and as benchmarks for school improvement cycles. Not only is the type of assessment determined (in most cases) at the district level, but the assessment schedules are currently decided by someone other than the classroom teacher.
Many teachers complain that the rigid parameters around the type and timing of these assessments interferes with the flow of their classroom program.They complain that they are forced to take time away from other curriculum areas in order to complete testing in literacy and math.
Principals and school districts, while acknowleding the fact that these assessments may be intrusive, will also argue that the assessments represent a way to takethe temperature of the system and ensure that everyone is tracking accurately towards the ultimate goal: EQAO success!
There are so many other elements that are wrapped up in the discussion about control of how teachers assess students, too many to tackle in one post. But I will return to this topic in the next few days, as we march closer and closer to the August 31st contract deadlines.
A seemingly innocuous point about who has ultimate control of this part of current classroom practice has, rather unexpectedly (for me, at least) turned into a major issue that could, in the end, contribute to a season of unrest in Ontario schools.
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