To: Mr. Bruce Rodrigues, Chief Executive Officer, EQAO
From: Janine Schaub, Toronto Elementary Teacher
Subject: EQAO’s Shrinking Disclosure of Information
NOTE: As of October 21st, 2016 Mr. Rodrigues has not replied to this letter.
Dear Mr. Rodrigues:
Three years ago in your EQAO video introducing yourself as the new Chief Executive Officer, you stated that,“those charged with educating our children deserve the best possible information to help them in their task.” This good intention appears to be contradicted by EQAO’s practice in recent years of steadily constricting the disclosure of critical information.
My purpose of this letter is to ask you to address particular concerns about why information is missing and more broadly to ask you to address the general practices of disclosure that EQAO should be guided by.
My principle concern is that educators no longer have access to all of EQAO’s test questions or text selections. To be able to analyse student results in context, it is my contention that educators must be able to see the entire test. When students fail to meet the provincial standard, as half of our grade sixes did this year on the mathematics assessment, educators have difficulty determining why.
EQAO was once more transparent about its data than it is now. In the past, principals could visit the organization’s website and download their school’s results. They could view the assessments, answers, and sample scoring sheets. Now key parts are missing.
It is possible that only a few principals are sounding the alarm about the dearth of data owing to the fact that they are too busy trying to navigate the EQAO site with its dizzying array of reports.
Even basic communication is difficult. EQAO appears to have insufficient server capacity for the fall rush. Principals logging onto the EQAO site during the school day are regularly forced to log off. While it is true that principals with Sisyphean perseverance will be able to find some of the information that they want, it seems unreasonable to make access so difficult, even leaving aside the problem that once the principal has gained access, EQAO’s disclosure is limited.
EQAO now releases about half of its test questions, which it refers to as “items.” The organization justifies withholds items to “build a bank of assessment material that can be used in the future.” With access to so few questions, educators should ask whether or not verifiable conclusions can be drawn from the summarized results. Given the dwindling number of released questions Mr. Rodrigues, it would be fair of educators to ask, “Will EQAO withhold more than half of its test questions on next year’s assessment?”
Educators wanting to review the reading selections on EQAO’s tests are frustrated by the fact that some stories or articles are missing from the released assessments. Although not the case this year, recent EQAO assessments withheld text selections regularly. EQAO justifies withholding the information on the grounds that it is avoiding copyright infringement. People who want full disclosure might wonder why EQAO has to use copyrighted material at all. If, as EQAO claims, its data is, “used to improve school programming and classroom instruction,” educators should have access to the exact reading material used on the test. Without the accompanying reading selections, student answers are of almost no use for adjusting programs in schools.
Several years ago, EQAO released reports that contained the exact curriculum expectation corresponding to each question. This was helpful to educators because they could do explicit teaching on specific skills. Some time ago EQAO stopped matching curriculum expectations to individual questions. EQAO’s explanation was that there was a cluster of curriculum expectations being covered by each question. If a cluster of expectations are covered by a particular question, why does EQAO not disclose all elements of the cluster?
EQAO now provides a list of the skills that the missing questions cover. For example, in the reading section on the grade six assessment EQAO states that students should be able to understand “implicitly stated information and ideas.”Educators might not be able to infer what skill is being referred to because EQAO’s guidance is at the level of generality.
EQAO states that the results of its provincial assessments are available publicly and “this helps keep the public education system accountable to taxpayers.” This is a fine principle, but it would be more accurate to point out that EQAO shares the overall results but keeps an increasing portion of the test questions and text selections secret. This puts EQAO’s accountability at risk. EQAO publishes its own observations and conclusions. Conscientious educators might be able to help students more effectively if they had access to all the test questions and all the text selections alongside corresponding answers. Educators would like to draw their own conclusions and use them to address particular student requirements.
I look forward to your response to key question: “How does restricted access to the test questions and text selections fulfill your own offer to provide “the best possible information” to help students achieve and improve?