Joan M. Green, CEO, Education Quality and Accountability Office
GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY AND BETTER QUALITY IN ONTARIO SCHOOLS
Chairman: George L. Cooke, President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests
Thomas L. Wells, President, T.L.W. Consulting, former Ontario Minister of Education and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Rev. Dr. Ted Reeve, Minister, Eglinton United Church; Margaret Moll, Student, Northern Secondary School; Barbara Smith, Chair, Education Quality and Accountability Office's Board of Directors and Cultural Development Officer, City of Markham; Harold Braithwaite, Director of Education, Peel District School Board; Gayle Nyberg, Chair, Toronto District School Board; Courtney Pratt, President, Caldwell Partners; Norbert J. Hartmann, Assistant Deputy Minister, Elementary/Secondary Operations, Ontario Ministry of Education and Training; Dr. Bette Stephenson, Vice-Chair, Education Quality and Accountability Office's Board of Directors, Chair, Learning Opportunities Task Force and former Ontario Minister of Education; and Ken Shaw, National Editor, CFTO Television and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.
Introduction by George L. Cooke
Education is a matter that is of great importance and interest to us all. A danger is that, having attended school, many of us may conclude we have expertise and knowledge about how to educate that really we don't possess. On the other hand; all of us know that the quality of education our children and others in the system receive will be one of the single most determining factors in our country's collective success. These thoughts define part of the challenge our guest speaker faces every day.
It is my pleasure to welcome Joan Green to The Empire Club of Canada.
Ms. Green was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the newly established Education Quality and Accountability Office in 1995. The provincial government created the EQAO in response to a key recommendation made by the Ontario Royal Commission on Learning.
Joan Green has had a distinguished career as an educator and leader in the public sector. In 1989, she was appointed Director of Education and CEO of the Toronto Board of Education.
Joan is a published author on curriculum, assessment, leadership and equity issues and is also a frequent public speaker at national and international events, most recently being invited to address symposia in New Zealand and Singapore.
Joan has received many honours and awards, including the distinguished Educator Award from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and the Leadership Award for Women in educational administration in Ontario.
Joan is currently the President of the Canadian Education Association, a national organisation which supports quality in education.
Joan has served in the United Way cabinet as Chair of the Education Committee. She is a trustee of the Art Gallery of Ontario, an advisor to the Board of Women in Capital Markets and a director of the Canadian Comprehensive Audit Foundation. She has also been a member of the Board of the Rehabilitation Institute of Toronto, where she chaired the hospital's Quality Committee, and has served as an executive member of the Governing Council of the University of Toronto.
Ms. Green, welcome to The Empire Club of Canada.
Mr. President, head table guests, ladies and gentlemen: I am honoured to address The Empire Club of Canada.
Hardly a day goes by when education is not in the news. In fact, seldom in the history of our province has education generated such intense discussion not only in the media, but around the dinner table, in the board room and in every part of the community.
Stories in the news are often short-lived. They are discovered, discussed and quickly replaced. Why does education persist in the headlines? There are two major explanations.
First, education affects us all, individually and collectively. We are students and former students, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, employers and employees, taxpayers and citizens. Although we relate to the education system in different ways, we all depend on the system to perform well.
The second explanation is that education has become even more important to everyone because we live in a period of tremendous economic and social change. Now, more than ever, we want to feel confident that our schools are achieving the results we intend. An educated population has always been a social policy objective; today, it is also an economic imperative.
Education is the foundation of a healthy, fulfilling life and of a productive, democratic society. Our schools, colleges and universities help people become privately happy and publicly useful.
At the turn of the century, John Dewey wrote, "What the best and wisest parents want for their own child is what the community must want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it would destroy our democracy."
Parents across Ontario have high expectations of their children's schools. This is as it should be. At the same time, we must all recognise that a school cannot be a dynamic place without the involvement of parents and the support of the whole community. A child's learning is affected by everything that is happening in the school, at home and in society at large. The school must therefore be a place where all the adults in a child's life are working together to provide opportunities and optimism. Teachers, parents, government, business, labour and the public must live up to their responsibilities to ensure that the right conditions are in place.
Schools are the backbone of communities across Ontario. Such is not the case everywhere. We sometimes forget that there are communities in North America where schools have fallen from public grace, no longer places which inspire the confidence of parents and students. We have not allowed this to happen in Ontario; we must ensure that this never happens in Ontario. We readily acknowledge that our schools are not perfect, but our premise is that they must endure and improve.
Our modern-day publicly funded school system has deep roots in our province. By the turn of the century, people had already begun to recognise the benefits of fostering knowledge and skills in the population at large.
Schools have since become a symbol of what we value. Our schools are not only a reflection of whom we are, they are a signal of the society we are destined to become. That is why education ranks so highly on the public's list of priorities.
Groucho Marx once quipped that "the future ain't what it used to be." We learn, live and work in a time of constant change. We must make sense of new ideas and shifting realities.
Broadening access to education is a central challenge now confronting every modern society. We need graduates who can create and fill high-skill jobs, drive economic growth and contribute to social progress. If students could once make their way in the world without the benefit of a formal education, that day is long gone.
To put it bluntly, the haves and the have-nots will be determined, more than ever, by educational success or failure. So, "making it" in school has taken on a whole new meaning and importance. The programmes in schools must meet the needs and learning styles of many more students than in the past. If a school gives up on a kid in 1998, the price to be paid by the student and society is much higher than it was in 1958. Now that we succeed at keeping most students in school, we must figure out ways to educate everyone we keep there. This is where some of the most heated debate is occurring today.
What do we mean by achievement? Clearly, students must be competent in the basics. They must be able to read, write and do mathematics. Strength in these fundamentals paves the way for students to pursue the arts, sciences, humanities, social sciences and all the other areas of inquiry that comprise a well-rounded education and a balanced life.
More than simply asking students to memorise and recite facts, we must make certain that they go further and apply what they have learned. It is vital that they know how to retrieve information from a variety of sources, that they know how to analyse it from a number of angles and that they have the skills to use it effectively in different settings.
The underlying structure and assumptions of contemporary schooling are rooted in the industrial society but our economic and social environments are being transformed by the information age. Our students will join a work force that is far more mobile and they will follow career paths that are far less predictable. Few of them will be able to depend on the safety net of continuous employment in a single organisation.
By choice or necessity, many students will earn their living by working for themselves. Today, nearly one in five Canadians is self-employed and the number is growing. The challenge for schools is to ensure that students are competent and confident in a world that values the skills of decision making, problem solving, critical thought and creativity. Students will need to be adept at self-management, taking initiative, analysing risk and seizing opportunities that may well fly in the face of conventional wisdom.
The Ontario Royal Commission on Learning was mindful of this challenge when, in 1995, it recommended that the provincial government create the Education Quality and Accountability Office. Parents in every community told the commission that they wanted evidence that the education system was functioning effectively and efficiently, providing all Ontario students with the best possible opportunities to learn.
EQAO's mandate is to respond to this call for greater accountability and better quality. We are an arm's-length agency accountable to the public through an independent board of directors.
I emphasise our independent status because it is an important source of our credibility. EQAO is not an apologist or spokesperson for teachers or the government; our role is to report the facts about student achievement and to make recommendations for improvement.
One of our major jobs is to develop and conduct tests in our schools. We are also in the process of designing an Education Quality Indicators Program for use across the province. We provide a range of statistics and analysis that educators, parents and the general public can use to evaluate the progress that is being made in Ontario's education system.
When we began our work three years ago, province-wide tests had never before been administered in Ontario's elementary schools. Not surprisingly, testing was at first unsettling for many teachers, parents and students. People wondered what would be on the tests. They worried that the results might be used to bash the system or to blame teachers, rather than as a window on learning and a catalyst for improvement.
Our approach addressed these concerns and demonstrated our commitment to constructive dialogue and concerted action.
When the first tests came out in the spring of 1997, students realised that the tests weren't full of surprises or tricks but covered the full scope of the knowledge and skills they had been learning throughout the year. Teachers saw that the tests provided models and strategies they could use in their classrooms every day. Parents became convinced that the tests were a timely check on their children's progress and on the school system generally.
To date, we have tested students in Grade 3, Grade 6 and Grade 9. The Grade 3 assessment is conducted annually and covers reading, writing and mathematics. It involves all students in publicly funded Ontario schools. We report results for schools, school boards and the province as a whole and we send home an individualised student report to every parent. Many private schools have chosen to participate in our tests so that they can obtain similar information about their students' achievement in light of the provincial picture.
The Grade 3 experience has had a huge impact on education in Ontario. We are now in the midst of expanding our testing programme to include more students. As a result, next spring, we will be testing all Grade 3 students and all Grade 6 students in reading, writing and mathematics. Together that represents some 300,000 students in over 3,500 English- and French-language elementary schools.
Human learning is complex. We can't rely on a single type of question to tell us everything we want to know. To obtain the full story about how students are doing, we need a technology that is equal to the task. Our approach to testing is distinct because we use many different methods to find out what students know and can do. Our tests provide insight into how students think.
We ask students to read and analyse a variety of reading materials, including articles, stories and poems. We give them opportunities to write and then edit their work. We require them to demonstrate their understanding of mathematical concepts by solving problems and communicating their rationale.
Testing students in the early grades gives parents and teachers a clear indication about strengths and weaknesses in students' learning. Good tests tell the school and the home where to focus and monitor efforts. They clarify what's expected and what needs to be done. They provide a benchmark against which schools can evaluate their performance over time.
In the year 2000, EQAO will launch a Grade 10 literacy assessment. To obtain a high school diploma, students will have to complete the test successfully. This test will provide an important check on how well students are developing their reading and writing skills, which constitute essential building blocks for success at school, at work and in the community.
At the end of October, we released our second annual "Provincial Report on Achievement." The results showed that while Ontario students are making progress and schools are using data to improve students' learning, much remains to be done.
While approximately half of the Grade 3 students achieved at Levels 3 and 4 on our four-level scale, our tests showed that half are not yet achieving at these high levels. Many students are still at Level 2 in reading, writing and in mathematics. These students are approaching but have not yet reached the provincial standard for their grade. A small number of Grade 3 students performed at Level 1. Their work showed limited knowledge and skills.
The test results shine a light on areas where students are doing well and where problems exist. They show where we need to increase our efforts and where we need to change direction. We are not satisfied with the results.
We cannot be satisfied until we know for certain that we are doing everything in our power to help all students do the very best they can.
Interestingly, for the second consecutive year, our surveys showed that Grade 3 girls were less confident about their abilities than the boys, despite the fact that the girls outperformed the boys by a significant margin in all three subject areas. The more things change, the more they stay the same!
The results from this year's Grade 9 mathematics test should be of serious concern to everyone. They echo last year's worrying Grade 6 mathematics results. The fact is, many Ontario students are struggling in mathematics. In this year's Grade 9 test, 21 per cent of the students achieved at Level 1. This means that they showed only limited knowledge and understanding of the concepts and skills in the mathematics curriculum.
It is also concerning that students had the most difficulty in problem solving, a particularly important skill at a time when mathematics, science and technology are rapidly becoming our bread and butter.
Students need to talk about issues and experiment with innovative solutions. As one 17-year-old recently observed, "Schools need to help students understand how we learn so that we can deal with new situations when no one is around to tell us what to do."
In this year's "Provincial Report," we recommended that students have more opportunities to strengthen their knowledge and skills in all aspects of mathematics by solving problems that have real-life applications.
Our report set out major recommendations pertaining to the Grade 3 test as well. Each recommendation identified specific steps that school boards and schools could take to address gaps in learning and teaching. Our recommendations call for action by everyone in education--teachers, parents, students, the provincial government, the Ontario College of Teachers, the teachers' federations and the faculties of education.
Education is not about winning or losing and testing is not a race. We want all students to win. Test results are useful because they challenge us to pay rigorous attention to where we are and where we want to be. They hold up a mirror to our performance and help us face the truth about our current realities. By celebrating our victories and confronting our weaknesses, we can construct the way forward for all students.
School improvement is not a mystery. Schools, classrooms and school systems can and do improve every day. Right after we release the provincial results and our recommendations each year, teachers in every school begin working with parents and community members to create action plans. This process motivates people to ask tough questions, it cultivates shared responsibility and it galvanises school-wide change. Teachers and parents have told us that, over the past two years, they have seen evidence that testing is making a difference.
It is counter-productive to rank schools based on test results because rankings tell us nothing about why scores are high or low and nothing about what can be done to make them better. In fact, rankings lead people to draw sweeping conclusions or make simplistic comparisons that fail to consider all of the factors that affect achievement.
Accountability neither begins nor ends with the publication of these test results. It is a process that continues over time and involves the whole community. Where accountability exists, progress is not only possible, it is probable.
The Auditor General of Canada, Denis Desautels, says that accountability exists in "relationships based on the obligation to demonstrate and take responsibility for performance in light of agreed expectations."
Accountability in education involves reciprocal obligations. Schools are responsible to parents and the public for providing students with the best programmes and the highest-quality instruction. By the same token, however, parents and the public are responsible for providing schools with the support, input and direction they require.
Ontario spends approximately $14 billion a year on the publicly funded school system. This sum represents an enormous investment in the future of this province. Ontarians want to know that these resources are being spent wisely. They want evidence that the system is getting better. They want to know that students are receiving the instruction and support they need. They want to feel confident that in the years ahead Ontario will have an educated and adaptable work force. And, Ontarians want to make sure that students have the attitudes and skills to go on learning for a lifetime.
We are blessed to live and work in one of the most diverse societies on the face of the earth. The children in our schools speak many different languages. Their families have roots in every part of the world.
The real test of our commitment to a healthy, productive society is our willingness to invest time, energy and resources in a school system which recognises that while all children come to school at about the same age, they bring with them a wide range of experiences and life circumstances. We need to take them all from where they are to as far as they can go. The economic returns from this investment are clear. But the true reward lies in the larger, deeper, better life that a good education provides for everyone.
Almost from the moment of conception, parents worry about their child's schooling, where the child will attend and whether that school will be good enough. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we are prepared to provide all children with the opportunity to attend a good school. I believe that this is something to which every child is entitled and for which our society is ultimately responsible.
Stories about schools abound. We hear them and we remember them. Each of us has at least one that we can trace to a person or an event, that we can link to some great triumph or a sad disappointment.
Let me close with the words of one of our Grade 3 students who is obviously going to do well in life. On a visit to his school, I asked Tony and his classmates for their advice on what we could do to make schools better. Tony said it all better than any of us could. He replied, "Tell us what good work looks like and tell us what comes next." When I requested his permission to quote his advice, he said, "Speak to my mom. I'm sure we can make a deal!"
Organisations typically get what they earnestly and specifically set out to get. Schools are no different. Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of focused intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution. It is the wise choice among many alternatives and it is the one we must all embrace--for the good of our children and the future of our province.
Thank you very much.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Ken Shaw, National Editor, CFrO Television and a Director, The Empire Club of Canada.