Welcome to EQAO must die! – a blog.

May 11, 2009

Welcome, and thanks for checking out this blog!  I created this blog for parents of students in Ontario schools.  This blog is a protest against EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) testing.  I hope that by sharing my experiences and knowledge of EQAO that other parents such as you will make ourselves heard in the grassroots fight against EQAO.  It is my firm belief that EQAO will only end when parents express their disapproval of this unnecessary, expensive and useless form of standardized testing which is taking over public education in our province.

This blog is a history of my own personal experience concerning my efforts to withdraw my Grade 3 age daughter from the EQAO testing circus.  I am hoping that my comments and suggestions will prove helpful before the next round of tests begins later in the spring.

Before I get started on my own story, I recommend that readers educate themselves on the issues by checking out the excellent summary I found regarding EQAO on the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (“ETFO”) website (www.etfo.ca) under the tab “Issues in Education”.  If you have a vague unease or can’t quite put into words why you don’t want your child to write EQAO tests, reading the information on the ETFO website will certainly help to convince you.  The  language on the ETFO website is clear thus making the issues easy to understand.

I have spoken to many parents who have a hefty dislike and distrust of EQAO but feel powerless to do anything about it.  This blog and the article on the ETFO website validates what you already know intuitively (i.e. EQAO is wrong).   Knowledge is power!  Read, educate yourselves, then don’t be afraid to speak up.  Remember:  EQAO will only end when parents like us speak up to say they don’t want their kids participating in the tests any more.

You can also telephone ETFO to speak in person to one of their very helpful representatives.  They’ll give you lots of advice and support.  I spoke to two.  The first was a counsellor in Professional Relations.  She was most pleasant, supportive and helpful in checking through both the Education Act and the EQAO Act to find legislation to support my withdrawal of my daughter from EQAO.  She also referred me to the head of my city’s local ETFO office, a person who was similarly helpful and supportive.  Without the help of these two professional women, I do not believe I would have persisted in what became an unpleasant encounter with the principal of my daughter’s school, the local Board of Education and my elected trustee (details to follow).

I also spoke at length with a staff person in the Office of the Director of Assessment and Reporting at the EQAO office in Toronto.  This gentleman  greatly respected my efforts and opinions and provided me with some crucial information from the EQAO Act in support of my position.  I cannot speak highly enough of this classy, professional person.  I wish I could mention his name, but I have made it a policy on this blog to keep individuals’ names out of it just in case there might prove to be any repercussions.

Now we come to the nitty-gritty:  Here is a breakdown of the actions I followed to withdraw my daughter from the EQAO testing:

 1.  I read the article on EQAO Testing on the ETFO website.  In particular, I noted and decided to act upon the phrase:  “As a parent of a grade 3 or 6 student, you may choose to withdraw your child from the provincial achievement tests.  You can do this by simply writing to the school principal.”

2.  In January 2008, I wrote a letter to the principal of my daughter’s school informing her that I would be withdrawing my daughter from EQAO testing later that school year.  I also stated in the letter that I did not want my daughter participating in any “pre-testing” activities that directly pertained to the upcoming EQAO tests.  I requested that she instead be provided with alternate curriculum-based learning activities.  I delivered this letter to the principal in person.  The principal read it, then attempted to convince me otherwise of my decision to withdraw my child from EQAO testing.  I stated that I was firm in my convictions and the short interview ended.  The same day, I also provided copies of my letter for my daughter’s classroom teachers (English and French teachers in a French immersion programme).

 3.  As EQAO time approached in the spring, I reiterated my request to the classroom teachers that my daughter not participate in any practice tests.  This request was honoured and my daughter was given other work in math, English and French.  (Just to put a plug in for my child’s classroom teachers:  they were great!)

 4.  Two weeks before the actual EQAO tests were to start, I sent another note to the principal’s office to reiterate and remind her that my daughter was not to write the EQAO tests and — here’s the crucial part — that she WOULD be at school.  (fyi:  many parents who do not want their children to write EQAO simply keep their kids home for a week or two.  I was not amenable to this course of action.)  I also stated in my note that I would be happy to provide my child with a book or other silent activity she could do while the other students in her class were writing.  (Another fyi:  it is my opinion that the school had an obligation to provide alternate work for my daughter.  I decided to make this concession, however, only because I respected the classroom teachers and did not want to increase their workloads.  (EQAO tests are almost as hard on the teachers as it is on the students!)  I also felt that this gesture was a sort of olive branch to show there were no hard feelings on my part but that I was determined that my daughter would not write the EQAO tests.)

5.  In response to my letter, I received a telephone call from the principal of my child’s school who curtly informed me that if my child were in school she would be writing the test.  She suggested that if I did not want my daughter to write the test I had to keep her home for a week.  I stated that this was not acceptable, that I felt certain that I could send my daughter to school but request her withdrawal from EQAO.  I rung off saying I would get back to her.  

 6.  After this conversation and on reflection, I was quite shocked that I had been told by a school principal to keep my child at home.  It was obvious at this point that the principal with whom I was dealing was not willing to acknowledge my carefully considered opinions with regards to my daughter’s education.  I called a professional councillor at EFTO who confirmed that a letter from me to the principal of the school SHOULD  suffice to withdraw my daughter from EQAO.  She also directed me to the Education Act which states that a parent has a RIGHT to send a child to school.  She recommended that I speak to the local ETFO union president who could perhaps provide a more close-up perspective of whom to call within the Board to resolve this impasse.

7.  Next, I called the office of  my MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament).  The staffers there suggested I call my elected public school trustee.  They also provided me with names and numbers of researchers at the Ontario Legislative Library as I felt I needed to hunt down the actual words in both the Education Act and the EQAO Act to support my action.  In particular, I wanted to obtain documented proof that my letter to the principal was enough to officially withdraw my daughter from the upcoming EQAO tests.

 8.  I telephoned my ward’s elected public school trustee to leave a message.  She did not get back to me for several days and only returned my call very late at night (after 10 p.m.) to reiterate that parents who do not want to have their children to write EQAO MUST keep them at home.  This woman then gave me a spiel about how wonderful EQAO was for helping children to maximize their learning potential, etc. etc. blah, blah, blah.  As I listented to her reaming off her facts it was as if I was listening to a brainwashed minion in a Communist regime.  I responded that I had studied the issues surrounding EQAO and after listening to her realized that I was even more firm in my intentions that my daughter would not, should not, could not write EQAO tests.  

 9.  I was now more determined than ever and, truth to tell, getting quite upset that a person with such firmly-held views as I possessed was being blown off by people (i.e. the principal, the trustee) who were downright condescending and borderline rude.  (At this stage in my story, I just want all of you readers to know that I consistently remained polite and respectful in all my encounters with the other characters in this saga, with one minor exception which you’ll see below.)  So:  I called back my local ETFO union president  who provided me with the names and numbers of superintendents at the local Board of Education with whom to speak regarding EQAO issues.  I left messages on voicemail, but only a secretary called me back to say she would pass my concerns on to her boss.  I never heard anything back.  However, I did learn a couple things:  first, my local Board of Education has a superintendent (we’re talking a six-figure salary here) who does nothing else except plan strategies for EQAO testing in the Board; and, second, this EQAO superintendent whose six-figure salary is paid by the money of taxpayers like me obviously thinks he is too important to return telephone calls to mere taxpaying parents (also me).  Did I say I was determined before?  Now I was more determined than ever that my daughter would go to school but NOT write those heinous EQAO tests.

 10.  At this stage, I began to dig through the actual laws, both the Education Act and the EQAO Act.  After the runaround and dismissive attitude I was receiving from my daughter’s school, our elected trustee and the Board of Education,  I had to find proof that a letter from me to the principal requesting withdrawal of my daughter from EQAO was, in fact, all that was required.  Both acts are available online on the Ontario Government website, by the way.  In the EQAO Act, under section 3.2, there is a reference to policy directives from the EQAO commission to school boards regarding withdrawals.  I began efforts to track this document down.  Enter a very helpful person at the legislative library who suggested that what I was searching for was not, in fact, a part of the act and as a policy document was most likely a guideline provided by EQAO or the Ministry of Education.  This information led me to the gentleman at the Office of the Director of Assessment and Reporting at EQAO already referred to above.  This person I spoke to was most helpful and respectful to me, even though he disagreed with my opinions.  He directed me to an EQAO document (available on the EQAO website) entitled:  Assessments of Reading, Writing and Mathematics, Primary Division (Grades 1-3) and Junior Divisions (Grades 4-6) – Spring 2008 – Guide for Accommodations, a Special Provisions and Exemptions – Support for Students with Special Education Needs and English-Language Learners (updated January 30, 2008).  He pointed out to me that on page 1 of this document it states:  “Role of Principal:  The principal is responsible for making decisions about student participation in the assessments.”  He also directed me to page 10 of the same document under “Decision Making:  If the parents want their son or daughter to write the assessment, the student must be allowed to write.”  Mr. He suggested that the converse must also be true, i.e. that if the parents do not want their son or daughter to write the assessment, the student must not be allowed to write.  (I should also mention that this person from EQAO and I played telephone tag for a couple days, but he was also persistent in reaching me.  It warms my heart to know that there are professional and polite public servants out there!)  

 11.  Next, I received another call from my elected public school trustee who also told me to keep my daughter at home.  She let slip that one of the superintendents I’d left a message with had asked her to contact me.  She also, despite my express wishes to the contrary, proceeded to tell me again why she thought EQAO was good for my daughter.  I let her speak.  I did not have the ill manners to hang up on her, but I regret not doing so now.  Pause for thought:  even though this person was in a democratically elected position, she nevertheless felt no urge to properly serve one of her constituents (i.e. me).  I was unpleasantly surprised to find her so self-serving.  Isn’t she supposed to be an advocate for us?  Or am I just old-fashioned in believing this?

 12.  I should also mention that my husband and father of our daughter was 110% behind our decision to withdraw our child from writing EQAO.  We knew of other families who felt the same as we did, but only one of those families was willing to follow the same course we were on.  So together, my husband and I and the parents of another child in my daughter’s school requested a meeting with the principal.  The principal agreed to meet us at 4 p.m. on the Friday afternoon before the week EQAO was due to begin first thing on the following Monday morning.  (This, I believe, was no accident in timing.)  At the meeting, we four parents presented our points, namely:  (1) As per the Education Act, we had the overriding right to send our daughters to school.  (2)  ETFO, a high-profile organization which is highly respected and influential in the field of education, had advised us that a letter to the principal of our children’s school would suffice to have our children exempted from the EQAO tests.  So why was our request being denied?  (3)  That in a province the size of Ontario, there must be precedents of other parents whose children were withdrawn from EQAO tests.  Why couldn’t the board and school just honour our request.   (4)  A person in the office of the Director of Assessment and Reporting at EQAO had personally advised me that it was up to the principal of our child’s school to make the decision as to who wrote the test and who was exempted.   I cited the directive document mentioned above.  (5)  We also cited other minor points (which I shall list below.  Despite our well-reasoned and thoroughly researched arguments, as well as our obvious seriousness and heartfelt feelings regarding EQAO, the principal kept saying that her hands were tied and that we shouldn’t send our children to school or they would HAVE to write EQAO.  She did not move from this standpoint one millimetre.  We had, in fact, been dismissed out of hand.  It was very important to us that our children had seen that we were playing fair, had done our homework and made a reasonable request through proper channels.  It seemed that conscientious objectors like ourselves would simply not be given the time of day.  

 13.  Faced with little alternative, we informed the principal that we were exercising our right under the Education Act to send our children to school on Monday.  We would provide our children with alternate silent learning activities.  When the EQAO test was placed in front of our children, under our instructions they would not pick up a pencil to write even a single mark.  We assumed that no-one at the school could force a pencil in our children’s hands and compel them to write.  The meeting with the principal ended.  As we took our leave, I refused to shake this principal’s hand.  This is the one and only time I was rude in this entire process.  (I do not regret this rudeness one iota, by the way.)

 14.  On Monday morning, the first day of EQAO testing, I took my daughter to school.  I should also mention that through this entire process, my husband and I had always told our daughter that we, as her parents, believed EQAO was wrong and that the only way it would end would be through parents like us who said we did not want our daughter to write EQAO.  Our daughter was a witness to our efforts to educate ourselves, as well as to contact public servants to acknowledge our wishes.  She now understood that the fight had passed on to her and she was ready to go into battle.  She knew it was very important that she did not put a pencil to the EQAO test.  She was also gamely prepared to be bored, if need be.  The morning bell rang and I watched as my daughter filed into the school with her classmates.

A consideration for parents:  Apart from boredom, my husband and I did not want our daughter to suffer any consequences for not writing EQAO.  We were running a risk:  if the school and board wanted to get really nasty, they could possibly have suspended our daughter for “opposition to authority” or some such other trumped-up charge.  We would probably have backed down in such an event.  Thanksfully, no such nastiness occurred, possibly because our daughter has never in all her years of school had any behaviour problems.  A suspension of a sweet little girl would have made the school and board look really, really bad (and, yes, I would have told the media about this bullying).  So please be aware and watch out that suspension for “non-compliance” or “conduct injurious to the moral tone of the school” or whatever could be used against your child for not writing EQAO.  If things do sink to this level, please keep fighting!  You do have recourse.

15.  Later that day, I picked my daughter up at dismissal.  She said she had a super boring day but she was very proud that she did not write a word on the EQAO tests put in front of her.   I hugged my daughter, so glad she’d stood firm.  Talk about a proud mama!  On the subsequent days of the EQAO testing, her teachers let her read, write in her journal and draw.  She was separated from the main group (supposedly so she wouldn’t sully the testing process) but she did not mind this or feel “centred-out”.  I am very, very grateful to her classroom teachers who showed her this small mercy of letting her occupy her mind.  By the way, the daughter of the parents who met the principal with us fared less well.  Her own classroom teacher was quite outspoken and derisive to the children who did not write the tests (yes, there were other families taking a stand at our school, I found out).   These children were not allowed to read or draw or write in their journals, as my child was.  (If you ask me, that’s just mean.)


So, parents, if you are still reading this blog, I hope you are galvanized to follow a similar course of action when EQAO rears its ugly head at your child’s school.  EQAO will only end when parents like you and I say we don’t want our kids participating in these tests.  So please keep carrying the anti-EQAO torch!  EQAO costs millions and millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money every year.  Schools and Boards are wasting huge resources in order to improve EQAO scores by small margins; in the meantime, valued and valuable programmes like music, drama, art and science remain underfunded or unfunded in many, many schools across this province.  The tests also lack integrity:  EQAO tests are not marked in an unbiased, non-judgmental manner because they are marked by human beings — only computer-marked tests are unbiased.    Research shows that EQAO does not provide any real improvement in our children’s education.  It puts a lot of young kids in a highly stressful situation.  EQAO test results of individual schools are published, and obnoxious right-wing think tanks manipulate the results to give the public a skewed vision of how our kids are doing in schools.  In the published results there is no mention of extenuating circumstances explaining those results, for instance, the school might have a high percentage of ESL (English as a Second Language) or Special Education students in its population.  And besides:  who are we hurting if our kids do not write EQAO?  Nobody.  So why can’t parents like us reasonably withdraw our children from this testing process?  A sad truth is that EQAO results hold a mirror up to reflect the vanity of principals and boards of education and insecure parents who need the empty validation that their child or school got a level 3.  At best, EQAO shows a slice of your child’s educational life, but even this is meaningless:  EQAO is taking over our education system, and it is up to us parents to stop it.  

So would I go through all this again?  Yes, absolutely!  However, I am hoping against hope that the Ontario Ministry of Education will see some sense and cancel EQAO by the time my daughter gets to grade 6 (the year of the next round of EQAO tests).  Throughout my anti-EQAO campaign, a few issues stood out to me:

 1.  When ETFO makes a statement on their website like “As a parent of a grade 3 or 6 student, you may choose to withdraw your child from the provincial achievement tests.  You can do this by simply writing to the school principal.”, then ETFO should be able to show solid, documented proof that this is, in fact, the case.  How does ETFO know this?  Is there something in the Education Act that says that parents can put any reasonable request in writing and it must be accepted by the Board or school?  ETFO needs to  assign one of its lawyers to substantiate this claim.  In fact, this was the key point in the principal’s rejecting of our request and her argument that EFTO was not a legislative body and couldn’t make such statements.  

 2.  The power of a principal vis-à-vis EQAO needs to be more closely defined.  When I pointed out to the principal of my daughter’s school that the directive stated that “The principal is responsible for making decisions about student participation in the assessments”, her reply was that only pertained to issues of accommodations for special needs students.  This is contrary to the information provided to me by the gentleman  from the Office of the Director of Assessment and Reporting at EQAO.  Interestingly, another principal I spoke to through a personal contact appeared to have a clear understanding about her powers as a principal with regards to decisions she could or could not make regarding EQAO.  She told me that if she were approached by a parent who felt as strongly as I did, then she would exercise her decision-making right as a principal to exempt my child from EQAO.  So the bottom line, here, is that obviously the language regarding a principal’s decision-making authority with regards to EQAO needs to be clarified.  

3.  If you talk off the record with your child’s classroom teacher, you will probably find that he or she agrees with the vast majority of his/her teaching colleagues who believe that EQAO is a crock, to wit:  it measures nothing of any worth that he/she couldn’t tell you anyways, it is a huge unnecessary expense and a deeply insidious development in our province’s education system.  However, teachers have been bullied into silence.  There is, in effect, a gag order on teachers from speaking out publicly and criticizing EQAO.  Thank heavens there is no such gag order on their union, ETFO.   In my opinion, ETFO should be turning this into more of a public issue.  A sad sign of the times is that teachers’ colleges are now churning out young graduates who are indoctrinated (brainwashed, even) into believing that EQAO is somehow good for our kids and even good for them (skewed reasoning goes like this:  if my students get a level 3 on EQAO (i.e. at the provincial standard or a mark of “B”), then I must be doing a good job as a teacher…)  

To sum up:  Before going through the foregoing, I was solid in my convictions that EQAO is bad for education and that the only way EQAO will end is through parents like myself refusing to have our children participate in  it.  After my experiences, I can say I am more firmly convinced than ever that EQAO must die. However, it must be a concerted campaign with real tactics and strategies so that David can bring down Goliath.  I am also left feeling disgusted by my elected trustee who did not act in my interests whatsoever, as well as the high-priced public servants at my local Board office who could not even be bothered to  return my telephone calls.  On the other hand, there was excellent support from ETFO, my MPP, and public servants at the Legislative Library, the Ontario Ministry of Education and EQAO.  When all is said and done, it should not have been this hard for me to withdraw my daughter from EQAO.  At the Board and school level I was dealing with mavericks who somehow felt they were above any accountability beyond their own agendas.  Throughout this whole exercise, I tried to make my daughter see that if one wants to effect change or stand for what one believes, then that change and expression of belief can come from working within the system.  Sadly, my daughter has learned that a person who takes the time to make a carefully considered and respectfully presented argument may not necessarily be treated with respect by the very people who owe the presenter their due respect.  So, if the words in this blog provide inspiration and knowledge for you to pursue a similar course of action to withdraw your child from EQAO, then I wish you all the very best of luck and hope that you will find a principal, trustee and superintendents who treat you with more respect and consideration than I received.  Thank you for reading this.  Best wishes!

Signed:  a parent like you.