My First Encounter with EQAO Proved to Me That it is Worse than Useless.
I posted much of this story on Twitter and it went somewhat viral. It obviously hit a nerve with followers and the retweets led to much more. I decided to post it here as a result.
It all began at a meeting of the TDSB around 1997. I had been a trustee on the legacy board the TBE. I was covering the board for NOW Magazine. Beside me was Louise Brown, a long time Toronto Star reporter who I had come to know as trustee. As the agenda was handed out, reporters got a copy. I noticed an annual list was in an appendix of every high school in the TDSB ranked from richest on the top to poorest on the bottom. There are about 100 full sized schools and 14 or so ‘secondary programs’ alternative schools and so on.
The very first EQAO grade 10 literacy test had been written but nobody knew the results.
I turned to Louise and commented, “Louise, check out this list. This will be the exact order of average scores when the test results are announced.” She looked at me as if I had slipped a gear and needed clarification. She responded “ what you mean is a tendency, a skewing in this direction” My comeback - “no I mean exactly in this order 1-114” She had tried to help but saw that I was either clairvoyant or I had been out in the sun too long.
Louise had an idea. Doug, either you are right and it is a huge story, or you are wrong and it is nothing new. I’ll tell you what, let's wait for the results and meet for lunch. If you are right, I will buy lunch and vice versa. You can explain your take on the results then. I agreed.
A few weeks later as I was pouring over the results I noticed one single school was out of place. Jarvis Collegiate, arguably the oldest continuously running HS in Canada was middle of the pack, but eight places higher than income alone would explain. 113/114 high schools were in exact order of the TDSB list. Louise called and said “you were right, where for lunch?” I said “but Jarvis?” She said 113/114 is actually amazing. Tell me about Jarvis at lunch. We met a few days later at the Willow Tex Mex restaurant on the Danforth.
Her first question - how the hell can you pick with 99% accuracy, the order the schools will finish? I clarified “ it is not divine intervention. In the UK they call these test results the ‘league tables’ because they remind everybody of the football (soccer) ranking and standings. Division A the elite private schools, Division B public schools in rich areas, Division C public schools in middle class areas, Division D public schools in blue collar working class areas, Division E public schools in poor area. The very same pattern is seen in American standardized testing results. In fact, world wide the pattern is the same. Test results track EXACTLY on income, or if you prefer SES, class,...
A week or so later Louise gave me a heads up. She had shown the Star editors and they were slack jawed at the accuracy. They devoted a front page lead above the fold and a full page inside to the results. I was included on the inside but they went with a principal, always a mistake, to interpret the results. Principals and superintendents are ‘company people’ and have a compulsion to take the defensive TDSB line “this is all true but we are making enormous strides in this area, blah blah, this is our challenge, we are working with community, in other words nothing to see here folks we got this”.
Every year since 1997 the EQAO results show exactly the same results rich to poor. The Fraser Institute tout some insignificant change somewhere if a school moves up or down 2 spots, which can usually be explained by gentrification or other demographic change.
The maps and documentation in this TDSB report show that EQAO results track EXACTLY with Toronto’s, rich, poor and middle income area.
But what about Jarvis? Well Jarvis is so old it was once the neighbourhood school for Rosedale, one of Toronto’s richest areas. Most Rosedaleites have gone private but the reputation has endured as a higher academic school than other ‘inner city’ schools. With Toronto’s open boundary policy so called ‘strivers’ will cross 2-3 boundaries to enroll in Jarvis. A subway close by helps. The school tends to attract hard working new immigrants who may appear to be moderate income but are working their tails off to achieve a better status especially for their kids. This does not work miracles but is good enough for eight spots on the chart. Chinese and south Asians are well known for crossing boundaries for Jarvis but in other eras it was other groups.
American progressive education critic Diane Ravitch explains “standardized tests do not measure students, and they don’t measure schools. They measure a school’s demographics.”
In Memoriam: George Martell, Friend, Mentor, Comrade.
My very good friend, mentor and comrade, George Martell passed on April 14th after a battle with cancer. I cannot think of anyone who had a more profound influence on my life, particularly my political-educational life than George.
I first saw George at the oid Toronto Teachers’ College, Pape and Mortimer. George was on stage in a panel discussing relevant education issues in Toronto. The other three panelists were in power suits. George wore a sweatshirt, cords and work boots, looking very proletarian. George was on one of his life themes, downtown kids are not dumb, they need a better program, the issue of the Trefann Court mothers, working class mothers angry with the public school results. My impression was, i'm with the guy in the work boots.
As I began to teach, i became aware of a publication called This Magazine is About Schools. George and Satu Repo were central to the magazine. Then a book appeared called This Book is about Schools, where George was a contributing editor, - it's still on my bookshelf. I lived in High Park but worked in Etobicoke in the mid to late 70s. I became aware of a group of progressives, mostly NDP who were forming a majority on the Toronto Board. One of the key players was this character George Martell. I started to attend board meetings and could see that it was George’s intellectual steel that was the spine of the organization. By the time I won a seat on the board in 1980, George had passed his seat on to David Clandfield and the late Fran Endicott. George did serve as the chair of the board NDP caucus. This is the period when I got to know George the best.
When I got off the board, George invited me to join he and David Clandfield in launching a new publication Our Schools Ourselves Magazine. At the same time, I was asked to cover education for NOW Magazine. During a critical election to reestablish an NDP majority George asked me to meet with Dorothy Chin to coordinate Chinese Heritage language teachers to best effect in the election, after that successful election, Dorothy and I became a couple and are still together today.
It was George once again, who arranged for me to teach a course titled ‘The Politics of Canadian Education’ at York.
George was back to teaching at York U and I went to the provincial office of OSSTF. Eventually we both retired but stayed closely in touch socially.
George has many educational and academic friends across Canada and even internationally.
George was nine years older than me. The perfect age to be all of a very good friend, an intellectual and political mentor and a socialist comrade.
Today I have this far reaching blog that gets 25000 hits per issue. It is my name on the masthead but those who know what George Martell stood for in politics and education will often hear his influence between the lines.
George can finally rest but his life’s work lives on through his students, through his writings, and through his disciples. I am pleased to be one but there are many more.
Rest in Peace my brother,