The Math Proficiency Test
Ontario implements mandatory teacher testing for new teachers
In 2019, Ontario’s Ministry of Education announced that they are considering mandatory math testing for all future teachers, making Ontario the first province in Canada to mandate teacher testing. At the end of August, more details were reported on the Math Proficiency Test.
The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) is developing this math test, which will be given to those who apply to the Ontario College of Teachers on or after March 31, 2020. The test will be administered by Ontario’s faculties of education during their two-year program. Teachers will need to achieve at least 70% in each of the two sections, math and pedagogy, to pass the test. Current teachers will not take this test.
This is not the first time Ontario has mandated teacher testing. From 2002 to 2004, Ontario experimented with a range of forms of teacher testing with mixed reactions from stakeholders, where some said it favoured public accountability, but constrained teacher professionalism.
An examination of research from the EQAO and other jurisdictions with compulsory teacher testing shows how teacher testing has been implemented and what to consider before requiring all of Ontario’s new teachers to complete this testing.
EQAO cautions against compulsory teacher testing
In August 2019, the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) released a review of research on teacher subject matter testing.
The EQAO, the soon-to-be creator of the Ontario Math Proficiency Test, reports that the research identifies two types of teacher subject matter knowledge that correlate with student outcomes: (1) good content knowledge and (2) pedagogical content knowledge. While the studies show inconclusive results, there have been some results that show a positive relationship between content knowledge and student outcomes in math.
According to the EQAO, there is little evidence to indicate that there is a direct relationship between teachers’ performance on standardized tests and student achievement. Better predictors of student outcomes are: teacher experience, teachers’ college or university grades, and the number of postsecondary math courses or professional math certification courses teachers have taken. The EQAO says that tests act as a “minimum quality guard” rather than a predictor of teacher performance in the classroom.
The EQAO report finds that overall, “current research demonstrates that standardized teacher tests are not linked with a level of performance consistency that justifies their widespread implementation at this time.”
The Math Proficiency Test is part of the PC government’s four-year $200-million plan to improve math outcomes in Ontario.
Lessons from other jurisdictions
Since the No Child Left Behind Act was implemented in the United States in 2001, most states began to require teachers to pass state examinations on areas such as math, reading and writing to become certified to teach in the public education system. However, the assessments have been shown to take the role of a biased barrier rather predictor of student achievement.
The number of racialized teachers have declined compared to white candidates with the implementation of mandatory teacher tests, such as the PRAXIS tests which assess academic skills and subject-specific content. Social capital theory, stereotype threat, or assessment bias are potential factors contributing to qualified racialized populations being erroneously removed from the American teacher pool. Compulsory teacher testing in the US has been described as an inequitable admissions tool that shows no correlation with teacher effectiveness and, ultimately, student outcomes.
Similar to the US, the United Kingdom implemented compulsory teacher literary and numeracy testing in 2012 as part of awarding teachers Qualified Teacher Status. Between 2012 to 2015, approximately 2,000 teachers did not continue training because of failure on the numeracy test. In July 2019, the schools minister in the UK, Nick Gibb, announced that compulsory testing of teachers will end because of teacher shortages and “marking errors”, which wrongly failed hundreds of teacher candidates.
In contrast with the US and UK, Finland has not implemented compulsory teacher testing. Finland is relevant in this discussion, since both Finland and Canada have high-performing education systems. However, on the last Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test which assesses 15-year-olds in reading, math and science, Finland outperformed Ontario in mathematics. Approximately 7% of candidates are selected into the rigourous five-year master’s degree program for Finnish primary school teachers, which has a strong focus on research and pedagogy.
What do key stakeholders in Ontario think?
Over the last few weeks, key stakeholders in Ontario have reported their position on the Math Proficiency Test.
Mary Reid (Professor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) reported to the CBC that research in the USA has not shown evidence that teacher math tests will solve the lower student test scores. Also, teacher candidates in the USA who are from black and Latino backgrounds have higher failure rates, which will impact teacher diversity.
Liz Stuart (President, Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association) told The Globe and Mail that standardized testing is not the best way to foster improvement in Ontario’s math instruction.
Sam Hammond (President, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario) similarly thinks that there is no one-size-fits-all test, as elementary and secondary school math require different levels of understanding of math.
Cameron Montgomery (Chair of the Board of Directors, Education Quality and Accountability Office) responded to the research presented in the EQAO literature review (see summary above) by saying that the review is a “starting point” on examining what the research is saying about compulsory teacher testing.
As the school year begins, advancing student achievement is paramount. One of the ways to ensure that is to have high teacher quality.
The goal of mandating teacher testing is to improve student performance by ensuring teacher quality. However, based on the research, there is little evidence of the relationship between teacher testing and student outcomes. And, the EQAO’s latest review cautioned that, “without identifying the best methods to increase student success, creating a restrictive pathway to becoming a teacher may cause more harm than good.” Teacher experience, grades from teacher training programs, and number of post-secondary math courses have been found to be better indicators of teacher quality.
Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, is aware of this evidence and assured in his statement last week that, “empirical data that will be collected subsequently [from the Math Proficiency Test] will better inform policy and practices in Ontario.”