Outcry over testing of teachers;Briefing;International

11th June 1999 at 01:00
CANADA: Ontario's re-elected Conservative government is ruffling feathers with a radical reform package, reports Nathan Greenfield

Teachers will have their professional knowledge examined every three years and pupils will face annual standardised tests, following the re-election of the ruling Progressive Conservative party in Canada's largest province, Ontario.

The electoral pledges will continue premier Mike Harris's four-year overhaul of education, which has brought clashes with teachers' unions and school board officials. The number of boards was slashed from 129 to 72, funding was centralised, teachers' pay was capped and the number of hours they had to spend in the classroom was set down in legislation. A back-to-basics curriculum was introduced last year and, the year before, standardised tests were brought in at ages 9, 12 and 15.

The Charter of Education Rights and Responsibilities, a major plank in the Conservatives' election platform, set out plans to end the practice of "social promotion" - where pupils go up a grade each year, regardless of attainment - and extend testing to all grades, a move supported even by the leader of the opposition Liberals, Dalton McGuinty.

Although generally supportive of the idea, Liz Sandles, president of the Ontario School Boards Association, said it would be a mistake to "pour too many resources into the testing industry and to test every child every year on everything".

More contentious is the plan to test and recertify teachers every three years. According to premier Harris, himself a former teacher, testing - on core knowledge of their subject or, for primary teachers, the curriculum - will ensure the accountability and excellence of teachers. He said: "We must guarantee parents that time and effort teachers spend upgrading their skills makes a difference in the classroom," he said.

The association opposes the plan, noting that it was made public before being given to the Ontario College of Teachers, the body responsible for certifying and disciplining teachers, or the school boards, who employ the province's 125,000 teachers.

Ms Sandles said it was unfair to target teachers as the only profession required to sit a recertification exam every three years, when this was not required of doctors or lawyers. The association did, however, agree that teachers should take accredited retraining courses.

Marshall Jarvis, the president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, accused the premier of teacher-bashing by implying that they were not keeping up with changes in their fields.

"Teacher testing is truly irrelevant to what is happening in the classroom. The premier has created a policy based upon polls rather than educational relevance. Our information shows, on an annual basis, 80 per cent of teachers are involved in professional development."

There is broad support for the proposed introduction of school report cards and adjusted, value-added league tables.

Ms Sandles said: "We believe that parents should know how their kid's school has performed in provincial tests. We don't believe, however that this information should be used to produce simplistic rankings of schools."

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