A truly weird little You Tube video, Education And Accountability, was posted on February 7, 2013 in an attempt to arouse support for a resurgent Canadian anti -student testing movement. Inspired by the appeal of the polished RSA animated videos, the amateurish Canadian version is a thinly veiled effort to discredit Ontario’s Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) and its well-established system of standardized student testing. The broadside did not come from out-of-the-blue but rather sprang from the team of Action Canada researchers who produced the 2012 policy paper, Real Accountability or Illusion of Success?, a call to review standardized testing in Ontario.
Asking ‘How Much Testing is Too Much Testing?‘ is a very legitimate and reasonable question to ask. Since 1995, and the creation of EQAO, student testing has expanded in direct response to growing public demand for accountability in Canadian K-12 public education. What the Action Canada team of Sebastien Despres, Steven Kuhn, Pauline Ngirumpatse, and Marie Josee Parent have done is to call for a review of the entire public accountability structure in the system. That video lays bare their hidden agenda which is to undermine hard-won public accountability in a system with a chronic aversion to responding to parent, student, or citizen concerns.
Reviewing the Action Canada report is painful for those familiar with the struggle in the early 1990s to bring back a semblance of public accountability to a runaway public education system. The Ontario Royal Commission on Learning, for example, is identified as the point of origin of student testing, completely ignoring the public advocacy of the Coalition for Education Reform (1992-1995). That’s a forgivable sin, but to ignore the rising public demand, even the role of Dr. Dennis Raphael in the Ministry of Education and Paul Cappon at the Council of Ministers of Education(CMEC) is truly amazing. It is clear that the authors have no idea whatsoever about how alien the concept of accountability for student performance was in the Ontario public system.
The Action Canada author’s research is not only narrowly circumscribed, it’s incredibly selective. Studying student assessment policies and considering only the work of anti-testers is what gives “education research” a bad name. It’s actually entertaining to see the OISE “progressive” faction. most notably David Livingston and Kari Delhi, cited approvingly, while the true assessment experts, Mark Holmes and Stephen Lawton, warrant not a mention. In places, the report shows that the young authors have not done their homework. Even the spin that the report puts on the Commission on Learning’s recommendation sounds like the later repentant thoughts of Co-Chair Gerald Caplan.
The Action Canada team has taken a run at the entire public accountability system in Ontario public education. Their “Task Force” recommendations call upon the Ontario government to review: A. The Structure of the Tests relative to Objectives; B. The Impact of Testing within the Classroom; C. The Validity of Test Results; and D. Public Reporting and Use of Test Results. Simply put, the little band of neo-progressives are asking whether, not how much, testing is good for student learning.
The report bears the unmistakable fingerprints of Canada’s leading foe of standardized testing, New York-born University of Ottawa education professor Dr. Joel Westheimer. While the young researchers did hold a panel and hear other viewpoints, it’s obvious that they have swallowed whole Dr. Westheimer’s lively commentaries and inspirational talks. Westheimer’s take on the excesses of No Child Left Behind, entitled “No Child Left Thinking,” should have been referenced because it definitely contributed significantly to their thinking.
The Action Canada report is clearly aimed at bringing Ontario’s public accountability system to the ground. It’s a clumsy, ill-considered attempt to turn-back-the-clock to a time when no one had to be accountable for much of anything in or out of the classroom. The Canadian Education Association and the Ontario Principals’ Council were, of course, among the first to “like” the report on Facebook. Thoughtful critics of standardized testing, like Dr. Diane Ravitch and the American Common Core research group are rightly concerned about two impacts: the steady erosion of Social Sciences teaching time and the potential for misuse in teacher evaluation. It’s a little too obvious that the young researchers are out to “kill testing” instead of simply stopping student test results from being factored into value-added teacher evaluation programs.
What’s driving the recent move to review and limit standardized student testing in Canadian schools? Does the Action Canada research report hold any water, let alone suggest a way forward? Why did the organized voices of Canadian teachers and principals jump so quickly in endorsing this thin little policy paper? What in the world makes educators so afraid of testing when they spend much of their careers testing and grading kids?