In defence of the EQAO; Comparing schools helps children get a better education

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Appeared in the Ottawa Citizen

How is School A doing in academics compared with School B? It is a simple but important question that can only be answered by the kind of provincewide tests that Ontario's students write in grades 3, 6, 9, and 10. By answering this question, these tests -- developed and managed by the province's Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) -- help all of Ontario's kids get a better basic education.

Several groups of people use the test results to compare schools. As a result, each directly or indirectly encourages and helps schools do a better job for their students.

For example, parents use the EQAO test results when they are helping their kids choose a high school. The results show how schools compare in academics. Using this information, parents and their children can make a more informed choice of school. Schools that perform poorly in academics or are declining in their performance may have trouble attracting new students whose families seek a school with high academic expectations. Such schools will have to find ways to improve their results or they may suffer a continuing decline in enrollment.

Parents use the test results once their children are enrolled in a school. Each year, many parents compare the school's most recent results with those of previous years looking for improvement or decline. They compare its results to those of other schools in the neighbourhood or school district, and ask the school staff questions like, Why does that school five miles away do so much better than ours in Grade 9 math? Parents with access to comparative school results are more powerful and persuasive advocates for school improvement.

For educators, the ability to easily compare schools is a boon to classroom and school-wide improvement efforts. For example, the staff at a lower-performing school can use the EQAO test data to identify schools that serve similar students yet enjoy better academic results. Knowing that some schools like theirs are succeeding gives the staff the encouragement they need to improve. By talking with teachers at the higher performing schools, the staff may find new ways to improve its own students' results. As one Ontario elementary school principal said to me during a discussion of his school's results, Performance data is my best friend.

Education researchers looking for better ways to teach depend on the large amounts of data generated by EQAO testing to provide the evidence they need to recommend changes.

Finally, Ontario's ministry of education uses provincewide test results to identify schools that continue to do poorly. It can then target those schools for various kinds of assistance that will help them improve their academic results.

By enabling anyone with an interest in the quality of Ontario's schools to easily compare individual schools' performance on important aspects of academic achievement, the EQAO tests make a significant contribution to school improvement. They are worth the effort.

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