A Lesson From “Cheaters”: Ethics and Standardized Testing

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Gosh I love when teachers are in the news, don’t you?

So by now you may have heard of the 10 Ontario schools that are facing allegations of cheating on EQAO tests.

I feel torn about this issue because on the one hand the last thing I want to hear is another story in the news that makes teachers look unprofessional. And I just love how every news agency makes it sound like teachers were all intentionally and maliciously cheating, when in many cases, the teachers may not have been aware that what they were doing was considered “cheating”, especially when doing things like allowing students access to dictionaries is generally just considered good teaching. On the other hand, this story raises an important issue for me and I think it’s an important issue for a lot of teachers:

I am so sick of our province’s love affair with standardized tests that provide a very narrow and artificial snapshot of our students’ success in literacy and numeracy. During my short tenure as a learning coordinator, every school that I worked with had a goal that involved improving EQAO or OSSLT scores–which makes sense in a way because those are goals that are measurable, and I’m sure that there is also pressure from superintendents to make these an integral part of the school goals. We all report to someone.

But why oh why do we put so much stock in a test that gives us such a narrow range of information? Does the grade 10 literacy test or OSSLT (for example) really tell us whether or not a student is literate? There is so much more to being literate than colouring in the correct bubble for a multiple choice reading response question or filling the requisite number of lines for a “series of paragraphs”. The test is not in any way representative of what we are told is an effective method of assessment or evaluation. It is the complete antithesis of differentiated assessment. And because of this, teachers have to spend time teaching students how to respond “correctly” to these types of questions rather than focus on the curriculum–or, god forbid, critical thinking.

Are teachers under pressure? Absolutely. Are kids under pressure? Are you kidding? Is it any great surprise that in some schools, some teachers feel compelled to provide students with dictionaries or give them practice questions from previous years’ tests?

Now I’m not saying I condone the behaviour of the teachers if they did indeed knowingly break the rules, but I can understand it. There’s nothing worse than seeing a student, who you KNOW is capable of answering a question correctly if only you could direct them to re-read the question, bomb an entire question that may mean the difference between passing or failing the OSSLT. But I’ll sit there and suffer in silence because I can only say what’s in the script and I don’t have any interest in appearing in the blue pages of the Ontario College of Teachers magazine.

Maybe what we can learn from these incidents of “cheating” is that EQAO testing is problematic for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that this form of testing forces teachers to suppress everything they know about what it means to be a good teacher.

10 thoughts on “A Lesson From “Cheaters”: Ethics and Standardized Testing

  1. Great post Danika! We’ve been saying these things about EQAO tests for years now. 2 years ago, OTF wrote a position paper called A New Vision for Large-Scale Testing in Ontario Schools. We shared it with EQAO, OPC/CPCO, CODE, OPSBA and many other education stakeholder groups.

    The pressure, to which you refer, comes from the Premier’s office – likely via Michael Fullan – and is all about accountability. To the electorate. What about the students? The Ministry will tell you how they use the data to ‘inform practice’ and for school/board improvement planning. Colossal waste of time and money – IMHO. Would you like to read the paper? DM me your email address if you want it.

  2. When I read the article I felt angry with these teachers because they make the profession look bad. Whenever one of us does something unprofessional, the media portrays them as a representative of the whole. Also, we have been berated with these tests for the past decade, so for a teacher to unknowingly cheat takes a certain level of out to lunch.

    That being said, I wholly agree that the test is a terrible assessment tool that goes against everything the research tells us about learning and being literate.

    Now, one point you didn’t mention was the fact that while this is a requirement for graduation, nobody has failed to graduate because they failed the test. The nearly impossible to fail literacy course has seen to that, so what purpose does the test serve, and what benefit is to be gained by cheating on it?

  3. Cyndie, yes I will dm you. I’d love to read it!
    Richard, I see your point about the OSSLT, but if students fail twice they do have to take a course which isn’t offered at all schools. And while that may not be preventing students from graduting it still creates pressure. Not only that but I wonder how many students who drop out have also failed the literacy test and what kind of a connection there might be.

    That being said, I’m not just referring to the literacy test but all the other standardized tests that occur in grade 9, 6, and 3. The pressure put on teachers to make sure students “achieve” can’t help but trickle down to those students.

    Thanks for reading, folks!

  4. Pingback: EQAO « doug – off the record

  5. Last paragraph is gold. Thanks for posting.

    I’m so disheartened by this whole thing. A post today in the Ottawa Citizen talked about how EQAO is using algorithms to look for anomalies and ‘find the cheaters’. Seems we have a cold war on a battlefield that should never have been started.

  6. What do you say to this…..
    Any teacher who speaks up against the moral corruption in education can be fined up to $25,000 by the Unions and permanently removed from teaching. The Unions run the College with their designated elected members who hold all major offices. This is what is public. What do you think a educational enquiry would find?

    http://www.cbc.ca/canada/ottawa/story/2010/05/29/ott-lawsuit-defence-ashbury-college.html
    http://www.oct.ca/investigations_hearings/decision_summaries/sept_03/sept_abdallah.aspx?lang=en-CA
    http://www.yorkregionanti-bullying.org/
    http://www.lfpress.com/news/london/2010/05/31/14206986.html

  7. Hi Danika,
    Great post!
    It’s such a shame that we don’t keep EQAO in perspective as what it is…a billion dollar tax drain that is only a snapshot, not an effective measure of student achievement as you mention. I hope that tax payers really feel that they are getting their money’s worth! 😉 I’d certainly rather see those billions go somewhere else.

    Colin, I read the Ottawa article you mentioned…it’s so interesting to hear that people might be skeptical that improved teaching couldn’t be responsible for improved scores! Makes me wonder if the Government really does have faith in what they are doing with standardized testing…wasn’t the goal to improve instruction?

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  9. Pingback: Leading From The Heart » Blog Archive » Is testing what is needed to get teachers to work harder?: Checking out Ontario’s Progress Report on Education

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