by Cheryl Jackson Friday November 6, 2009

EQAO.  Ever heard of it?  If you have kids in school, you have.  Every May or June, all Ontario students in Grades 3,6, and 9 take these standardized tests in literacy and numeracy.  The scores are published, by school, in newspapers and online.  Each child is given his or her results several months later.

In my house, the tests have not been a big deal, because I see them more as a test of the system than of my children.  In fact, I couldn't tell you exactly how they've done on them.  I have always preferred to talk to their teachers about their progress.   Still, they are a fact of life in Ontario, and after all these years, controversial.

The government says standardized tests are a valuable tool that helps to improve student achievement and that the results help direct resources.   Those who agree say the system must be audited and measured, and that the public has a right to know the results of each school.

Critics say the test causes stress and focuses far too narrowly on literacy and numeracy without regard for the many other things a child learns at school, such as the arts, history, creativity, teamwork.  They also say that teachers are forced to take time away from curriculum to "teach to the test", and that in the end, the whole thing offers no clear benefits for students.  They also say parents use the scores to choose schools, when the scores may not be reflective of all the good work a school does.

So who's right?

We're going to debate the issue tomorrow, and I can't wait.  I'm moderating the panel discussion "Testing: the pros, the cons, and the alternatives"  at the People for Education conference in Toronto.  Following that, we're taping a show on the topic, with the same guests, for TVO and tvoparents.com. 
The guest line-up is stellar.   Debating will be Joel Westheimer, University of Ottawa, author and winner of the CEA Whitworth Award for Educational Research;  Marguerite Jackson, CEO, Education Quality and Accountability Office; David Johnson, CD Howe, University of Wilfred Laurier; and Kathleen Devlin, Director Policy and Public Affairs, Ontario Teachers' Federation.      I've read their pre-interview notes and I can assure you, this will be a good debate.  

We'll upload the show to  the Your Voice site on Friday, and you can watch it on Sunday at 6 on TVO. Then you can decide for yourself what YOU think about standardized tests.   Enjoy.