Graduating student teachers across Ontario will be scrambling to write a math proficiency test the provincial government is making available on Monday, following a months-long delay that has prevented would-be educators from clearing a final hurdle to securing their teaching licences.
Meanwhile, the agency directed by the government to develop the math test has removed a research review from its website that found standardized tests for educators do little to advance students’ achievement in the classroom.
Ontario would be the first province to require student teachers to pass a math test before getting their teaching licence. Australia and several jurisdictions in the United States mandate standardized teacher testing.
The province’s move to test teacher candidates on fractions, percentages and other math concepts has been controversial. The government has said that a teacher-competency test would be effective as more and more children struggled to meet the provincial standard in math.
However, research shows that teacher experience, the number of postsecondary math courses future teachers took and professional development were better ways to improve student performance. An August, 2019, literature review by the Education Quality and Accountability Office found that while compulsory teacher tests may receive support from policy makers, educators and the public, “the fundamental goal of these tests – to improve student learning – is often not met.”
The research review is no longer on the agency’s website.
Cameron Montgomery, chair of the EQAO, the agency tasked by the government with administering the test, said it was “a joint decision” to remove the research report, but the public can request a copy. He declined to comment on who made the decision, and said the research paper was “starting to be used for different reasons.”
The agency said it had been looking at how it would hold the test virtually, and only recently entered into an agreement with Colleges Ontario to administer it.
At least 70 per cent of the test will assess student teachers on content, including fractions, percentages and other arithmetic. The rest of the assessment will test them on how to teach the subject in the classroom.
EQAO is responsible for developing and scoring the test, said spokeswoman Sophie Auclair. The test will run from May 10 to August 13, she said.
In the meantime, many teachers who graduated last spring and have been teaching in classrooms were granted provisional teaching certificates. They will have to write the math test in order to continue teaching in the province.
Bella Lewkowicz graduated from the University of Ottawa last year and has been teaching French at the Catholic board. She said she and other graduates have been waiting for months to learn about the test, which was legislated in the fall of 2019.
Ms. Lewkowicz said she and other new teachers are worried that after “literally no word for over a year, and then all of a sudden with like 100 and some odd days to go before the expiration of our provisional licences, they drop everything about this test on us.”
Ms. Lewkowicz is part of a court challenge to have the test thrown out.
“I’m extraordinarily frustrated due to the lack of supports, due to the lack of information, the lack of guidance and the lack of potential preparation. It is a very frustrating time,” she said.
Caitlin Clark, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said it was “unacceptable” that many elementary students are failing to meet provincial standards. “From the United Kingdom to Australia and Japan, a math standard for educators aligns with other leaders in math education,” she said, adding that the government has also updated the math curriculum for elementary school students.
Mary Reid, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, said student teachers were told the test would be available last fall and the government kept changing the timeline. She said that several universities had started introducing courses that teach student teachers math basics, which the research shows is more valuable.
Prof. Reid said the test is adding to the stress teachers are feeling during the pandemic. Her department is looking to offer small group sessions and study guides.
“It is absolutely appalling and irresponsible for this government to impose a math proficiency test that is so high stakes,” she said. “It is such a short timeline. It is treating teachers with absolute disrespect.”
The Globe and Mail, May 9, 2021