Ontario Can Close Gaps in Access and Opportunity for Students Through Community-Led Projects
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing systemic inequalities. It also presents new challenges for marginalized families and disadvantaged communities associated with loss of income, lack of access to social support services, increased care responsibilities and an increase in depression and mental illness. ‘anxiety.
Learning loss has become a buzzword since the start of the pandemic, referring to the general loss of knowledge and skills due to disruptions in education.
Ontario standardized tests
Ontario has introduced standardized tests administered by the Office of Accountability and Quality in Education (EQAO) in Grades 3, 6, 9 and 10 to hold the education system accountable for the promised quality of education . EQAO was established in 1996 as an independent government agency and costs about $33 million a year to administer.
Many unions of teachers, educators and parents oppose testing. They argue that it does not fulfill its mandate, that it has led to a narrow measure of student achievement, and that it contributes to fear of failure.
like my book Decolonizing Educational Assessment Ontario Elementary Students and EQAO explores, the administration of EQAO’s current model is based on false assumptions that standardized tests accurately and objectively capture levels of student achievement.
The NDP and Liberal Party election positions on the EQAO review reflected the findings of a 2018 report led by six expert researchers who, at the time, were Ontario’s education advisers to the provincial government. .
Part of their concern was that while tests like EQAO can tell us how well students are doing, they tell us little about how students got there or why they are performing poorly.
It is important that Ontario’s new government engage in community discussions about the validity of EQAO’s tests and other aspects of schooling that affect student achievement.
Barriers to Opportunities
Since the introduction of EQAO’s tests in Ontario, achievement gaps between different social groups and communities have not narrowed significantly, but have widened. The growing gaps relate to students with special educational needs, students learning English, and all races and socioeconomic statuses compared to non-racialized students and higher socioeconomic communities.
EQAO does not currently collect race-based data. But data from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) – one of the largest boards in North America – shows that black and indigenous students are more likely to be directed to non-university programs than white students. Black, Indigenous, and some racialized student groups have been disproportionately expelled from TDSB schools.
Read more: Ending streaming is just the first step to dismantling systemic racism in Ontario schools
Data shows lower academic achievement for Black and racialized students: for example, 57% of TDSB students are meeting the provincial standard, according to EQAO’s 2018 Grade 9 math assessment, compared to 18% for black students. This achievement gap is due to opportunity gaps – the intersection of systemic inequalities that create barriers for students to access and obtain opportunities to reach their full potential.
Focusing on achievement gaps prioritizes achievement differences as a barometer for identifying educational inequalities. Focusing on opportunity gaps provides a more holistic community perspective beyond individual student outcomes. This focus allows us to examine systemic inequities that constitute barriers that impact student achievement.
The Fraser Institute think tank annually ranks schools based on EQAO results over a five-year period. These rankings have become so popular that they influence property values.
Although the Fraser Institute rankings specify the percentage of ESL learners and students with special needs, they do not take into account systemic barriers that affect school communities.
Closing the Achievement Gaps: Alternative Approaches
Even if the province revamps testing, what won’t help is pressuring teachers to spend more time preparing students for the tests. What is needed are alternative approaches to meet the needs of local communities.
An example is the Youth Association for Academics, Athletics, and Character Education (YAAACE).
This community organization seeks to close the achievement gap for students living in the Jane and Finch community in Toronto. It was founded in 2007 by Devon Jones, a TDSB educator and local community activist.
YAAACE focuses on creating access to opportunity for community residents by mitigating risk factors that prevent students and families from reaching their full potential. It prioritizes continuity of care through affordable and accessible programs year-round.
For example, YAAACE aims to ensure that students have access to a caring adult at all times on a 24-hour cycle, particularly outside of school hours, weeknights and weekends – when they may be exposed to risks.
YAAACE offered an additional evening and weekend academic program between September 2020 and May 2021 in partnership with Spirit of Math, an after-school math enrichment program. The Community School Initiative offered a structured math program for students in grades 2 through 8 at a subsidized cost.
A team of caring adults, including certified Ontario coaches and teachers, supported this program. A February 2022 final report details how the Community Schools Initiative created access to affordable and socioculturally relevant academic opportunities, and minimized achievement gaps by mitigating opportunity gaps.
Reduction of inequalities
No one is arguing that the province shouldn’t seek to collect data on effective schooling. But governments need to think about how they can be collected more effectively in partnership with school boards, educators and community organizations to better meet the local needs of students and their families.
This requires a shift in policy and practice towards an equity lens. We need to invest in programs and policies that view education as a symbiosis with the community as a whole.
YAAACE Founding Director Devon Jones and YAAACE Public Safety Consultant Tamasha Grant co-authored this article.