We just finished our EQAO testing and boy am I e-q-a-over it! That was the best intro line I could come up with and I think it’s a great reflection of my current mental capacity so I’m not even going to delete it. We know the students refer to it as “Evil Questions Attacking Ontario”, but I think teachers should start referring to it as “Educators Quaking All at Once”. Or maybe Educators Quitting All at Once. It’s hard to work with the Q.
We decided to conquer the grade six testing in three days, doing two of the six sections each day. This meant asking my class of moles – I call them this because every day is a game of whack-a-mole trying to get them all to stay put at once – to sit not only still but also silent for two 100-minute blocks. It was as painful as you’d expect for all involved parties.
The first day started in a bit of a panic because our principal was unexpectedly away. I also have a bit of PTSD because the first and only other time I’ve administered EQAO, an official EQAO auditor came with his clipboard of judgement and scrutinized my every move. I made several mistakes as an EQAO rookie, and to make it worse, that year the fire alarm went off multiple times during testing due to the relentless heat (old building, no A/C) and all in all it was a very stressful time.
About ten minutes into testing, one of my “laptop kids” as I affectionately call them wandered over to get a pair of scissors. (This particular student is the kind who really shouldn’t have a laptop due to being dangerously clumsy and as awkward as a metal coat hanger, but nonetheless cute like a little elf.) I asked her what she could possibly need a pair of scissors for, especially given that she was using a laptop, and she let me know that there was a piece of skin she needed to cut off her shoulder. Anyone who’s an elementary teacher probably doesn’t find that ultra out of the ordinary. I shooed her back to her desk and told her a) that the piece of skin would have to wait and b) to please not use glue-covered, rusty classroom scissors for medical operations. Speaking of medical operations, at the start of the second block, one of my other students decided to lose not one but two teeth in a very bloody way, and he started piling the Kleenexes he was using to blot his tooth holes onto his desk. Consequently, I then had to control the spread of communicable diseases while also trying to get my moles to settle down and zip it so that we could start the next section.
All in all the first day things went o.k.until we discovered that two students hadn’t turned their test booklets in, leaving them unsupervised for a period of time. This is a big no-no in the EQAO world because, somewhere, someone believes that twelve-year-olds or their burnt-out teachers care enough to tamper with the booklets in order to improve the scores. I can’t figure out who these twelve-year-olds or their teachers are because I have never met them and sort of don’t believe they exist. I kind of want to tell EQAO not to flatter itself. My kids only care about it at all because it means they get popsicles. That being said, the rogue booklets turned into a twenty minute inquisition by my principal who wanted every detail right down to what colour shirt everyone was wearing that day because such incidents have to be reported. In her defense, she’s a new administrator and wanted to be thorough, and I’m sure I’d do the same.
The next day was less eventful, however, it was on this day that one student decided she would break up with another during the testing via good ol’ fashioned note. This poor guy happens to be hands-down my most unfocused and busiest student and the last thing I needed was for him to have something else on his mind, because it’s already full to the brim with Minecraft, Pokeman battles, and engineering things that he can fly across the room. He was so sad and forlorn during the break that even the other teachers noticed he wasn’t his usual full-throttle self. I wanted to shake his (ex) girlfriend by her tiny shoulders and say, “Couldn’t you have waited until after testing!?” But as I mentioned before, these kids really don’t give a flying hoot about the testing, and as we learned today she had someone else she needed to get busy dating, so that’s that.
Today was the third and final day and the kids were so exhausted, sweaty, and over it that they barely held their pencils upright as they scratched down something that would pass for an answer. I watched in horror as some of them slapped their booklets shut after only twenty minutes – definitely not enough time to write with the attention to detail needed for a level 3 score. I pleaded them with my eyes to not quit so soon, since we’re not allowed to verbally prompt them at all, but as per usual they didn’t ever consider making eye contact with me. To rub salt in my wound, the one who finished earliest just sat there and did literally nothing afterward, not even a sudoku puzzle. So she chose staring aimlessly at the wall for 60 minutes over trying to put some more effort into her answers. This definitely elicited a rage-sigh from me, but at the same time, I was kind of impressed by her blatant lack of fucks to give.
I am of mixed opinions about EQAO testing. On the one hand, I see the benefit in a provincial test that could provide both parents and teachers with feedback about how our children are learning on a large scale. It could help all of us reset our expectations about what the students should be able to independently do because there are huge, enormous, glaring discrepancies among Boards, schools, and even teachers. It could confirm (or perhaps challenge) our assessments at the school level when parents accuse us of bias, inaccuracy, or poor judgement in our grading.
On the other hand, the test is an offensive waste of time, resources, and money that are so desperately needed for, you know, actually teaching the kids. My biggest beef with the testing is that I don’t have the resources and support I need to get my kids ready, then they test them just to prove they weren’t ready. I could have told the government that without spending the millions. All they have to do is ask. I’d tell them, no, actually, these kids aren’t at the literacy or numeracy level they could be yet. I’d tell them that’s because I’m one single person trying to give one-on-one, individualized support to twenty-five. I’d tell them that we are teaching too much content and not enough learning skills. I’d tell them it’s because we have behavioural students in our school who are leeching all of our staff support. I don’t blame these behavoural kids; it’s not their fault that they suffer from mental health issues that no one is treating. We have one small chap, for example, that requires an entire classroom to himself in order to not maim people with scissors, and because of that, the resource room that dozens of students once used for academic support was shut down and allocated solely to him. And don’t give me that Everyone gets what they need bullshit line – what he needs is professional help and he’s not getting it, because his parents also need professional help, and they can’t see the forest for the trees. But who are we to suggest that? Just a bunch of people who work intensely with hundreds of children, that’s all. We probably don’t know much.
EQAO will tell you that the testing works out to only about $22 per student, and I would say that would be worth it if the test actually assessed something useful. If you read samples of the test questions and then look at how they were scored, you’ll shake your head. It becomes clear that all they are looking for is a “right answer”. Students whose answers are too creative or out of the box are penalized, literally – if you write more than the writing space provided, they don’t count it towards your answer, even if that’s where you said your most brilliant piece. It’s a test that really and truly forces you to stay in the box. And yes I know that there are times when one is required to stay in the box, such as when signing one’s passport, but when assessing how our students are capable of learning, I’d say we should be seeing how far they can go out of the box. Those are the kids who will change the world. Those are the kids who will challenge the way we think things “have” to be. My coat hanger kid is definitely one of them.
Good luck to all of the teachers currently administering EQAO testing out there. May your students and their teeth stay put!