A Lesson From “Cheaters”: Ethics and Standardized Testing



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.

The “Good School”‘s Burden


A colleague of mine expressed frustration with the fact that she and some other teachers at our school felt out of the loop when it came to board initiatives regarding assessment and evaluation, student success, literacy, numeracy, and differentiated instruction. She was told that the reason why our school was often overlooked was because students at our school consistently performed well on standardized tests and we have good records for credit achievement.

I get it. Our board has only so much money to spend and it would seem to make sense to funnel this money where it is most needed.

But if you consistently neglect the “good schools” might they not cease to be “good schools”? Might the “good schools” be “good schools” not because of good teaching–but in spite of bad teaching? If we truly believe that all students can be successful, then success is not just about credit accumulation and passing standardized tests–it’s about exploring gifts, and excelling, and challenging one’s self.

And if you keep funneling money into your car that keeps breaking down while neglecting the regular maintenance on your trusty Toyota (insert Toyota joke here), aren’t you going to end up with a gunked up engine and bald tires? (I really should avoid car analogies. Um… okay, so say I have two pairs of shoes…)

I also can’t help but think of the professional development opportunities I would have missed out on if my first teaching placement was at this school–not because of lack of support by admin, but because I wouldn’t have been chosen for many initiatives because of a perception that I didn’t teach “at risk” kids. The kids are the first priority, but it’s sad to think that there are enthusiastic, dedicated, open-minded teachers who are missing out on leadership opportunities because they teach at “good schools.”

On the other hand, maybe if you’re really looking for leadership opportunities you should seek out more challenging schools.

Still, I completely understand my colleague’s frustration. She just wants to do a good job and be kept in the loop which is hard to do if you’re not even aware a loop exists.