What Literacies Should be Tested?

eqaoI understand standardized testing well, such as Ontario’s EQAO tests. The idea is, that when used correctly, the results are used to get a picture of overall performance across students, schools and boards of education. I also know that despite the many shortcomings of theses tests, they seem to be seen as one of the most important assessment tools for measuring academic performance and allow for comparisons of ability across students, schools and districts.

I first administered the Grade 3 EQAO test about 8 years ago at a small community school. The test consisted of language (reading and writing) open response and multiple choice questions and math questions. The information and sample tests are found on the EQAO website for download. These old tests provided a great sample for teachers, parents and students as preparation.

It is close to a decade later, and I administered the Grade Six test last week. For two weeks prior to the test, I was busy ensuring that my students were well prepared to answer the EQAO “style” questions – prepared for multiple choice answers and prepared for a style of assessment that we have, quite honestly, not practiced throughout the year. I downloaded a printed out copies of the test starting at 2004, 2005, 2006, up to 2009. Every test contained the same style of questions, the same style of texts and provided exemplars of each achievement level. Very convenient – but also very concerning.

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These ipods were removed from students prior to test

Which brings me to my point.   The test itself has not changed. Students are required to use a pencil, eraser and paper dictionary and in math they can use physical manipulative (my students are used to accessing virtual manipluatives). Electronic devices are not permitted. Yet, we – as a system know that in Ontario (and North America), the kinds of literacy’s and methods of instruction and delivery has changed. Today, students are accessing instant information. They are using word processing programs to help with spelling and grammar (the same ones that adults use) and some use collaborative tools, email, and instant messaging to communicate. In even the most unequipped classrooms (ie: one computer, hard-wired) students today are accessing networked media in other places more then in any other generation. The students that wrote EQAO (or other standardized tests) this year grew up with a computer mouse in their hand. Terms like ‘blogging’, ‘msn’, ‘skype’, ’twitter’ (and so on…) are terms they have always known. These students gravitate toward digital media forms and digital communication more than any other form of literacy. Mark Prenski coined this group of students as “Digital Natives” – those who have grown up in a digital landscape.

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5 Replies to “What Literacies Should be Tested?”

  1. Zoe, I always enjoy reading your blog posts, as you always manage to get me thinking. As someone that’s never delivered the EQAO test, I can’t imagine what you would be going through during the actual testing process, let alone what the students experience. I’m very eager to hear what others have to say about your post and about the “literacies” that should be tested. I think that you make some wonderful points regarding why changes should be made to this test and what changes should be made too. I wonder if changes ever will be made …

  2. Great post! Standardized testing is just coming up for me as well and they generally take out any modern references on the tests because minority communities wouldn’t know what they were referring too. In this reasonable accommodation it takes out all the the most familiar things for the students and make the tests a disconnected foreign experience. I especially love the student quotes, very nice!

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  4. Zoe –
    I agree, changes need to happen. We ask teachers to adapt their instruction and assessment regularly and yet… does EQAO? More than changing the actual questions – do they reconsider yearly what it is that their test is actually testing and look at the big picture? When I lived in Moosonee the grade 3 EQAO came in and was about conservation of geese. Culturally, the question made no sense to the grade 3 class. The teacher of the class was forced to change the question slightly and staple a letter with a copy of the question the students actually answered to each test. It was chaos but necessary to be “fair”. It is nearly impossible to create a test that is equally accessible by all students across Ontario. Do the tests need to be identical? Is there any choice provided in the test?
    I really liked your students consideration that technology doesn’t necessarily have to be used (varying access), but that the testing certainly needs to become more relevant. Insightful.
    As always, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  5. I think EQAO was a hard task, that I had no choice of doing. But now I know that it isn’t about evil teachers trying to hurt our brains.It’s the government caring about Ontario’s learning, I feel good gettign it over with.

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