Government Pushing Ahead

Many important elements of the government's teacher testing program are still being developed. Here’s an update on what the College has learned about this initiative so far.

By Denys Gigučre

Come next September, Ontario teachers – new and experienced – will get a better idea of what to expect from the government’s teacher testing plan as the first pieces of the program start falling into place. The government intends to phase in the implementation of a number of major initiatives like an entry to the profession qualifying test, a re-certification process and a province-wide, standards-based performance appraisal plan.

A language proficiency requirement for new members of the College is already in place. “Our government has looked at the best of what other professions and jurisdictions are doing and we’ve established a fair and reasonable balance between the assessment of knowledge and critical classroom skills for both new and established teachers,” said Education Minister Janet Ecker on March 14. “It’s what parents told us they want.”

Two requests for proposals related to the program indicate the government is planning legislative changes to implement some elements of the Ontario Teacher Testing Program.

N E W      M I N I S T R Y      U N I T

Last year, the Ministry of Education established the Ontario Teacher Testing Project unit to oversee the development and implementation of the government's teacher testing program.

Earlier this year, the unit issued two requests for proposals (RFPs) in relation to the teacher testing program. “Improving the quality of teachers and teaching is essential to enhanced student achievement and parent satisfaction. It will also facilitate the effective implementation of the new curriculum, funding model and accountability measures in education," says the background for the two RFPs. The first RFP, issued February 26, dealt with the review of teacher performance appraisal policies and practices in Ontario. The final report by the chosen proponent is due in early June.

The second RFP, issued March 14, deals with the development, implementation and administration of an Ontario teacher qualifying test. An approved test is expected in the spring of 2002 and the official Ontario Teacher Qualifying Test should be in place by the spring of 2003. A third component of the government’s plan is coming soon and involves the re-certification of current Ontario teachers.

A first step of the government’s teacher testing plan – a language proficiency requirement – has been in place since January 1, 2001 for teachers who have not completed their teacher education in English or in French. The College had proposed the requirement in June 1999. A year later, the government approved the requirement under Regulation 184/97.

O N T A R I O      T E A C H E R      Q U A L I F Y I N G      T E S T

The government announced in March that it was seeking proposals to design, develop and administer a qualifying test for all new teachers applying to the Ontario College of Teachers. A number of professions in Ontario like doctors, lawyers and accountants, to name a few, already have in place an entry to the profession test.

The Ministry of Education will assume the full design and development cost of the test and has asked bidders to prepare a workplan with options and cost estimates for the provision, the complete administration and the delivery of the test for a three-year period.

The ministry’s initiative follows the College’s recommendation in its advice to the Minister on teacher testing in April 2000.

“This test will help ensure that new teachers have the up-to-date skills and knowledge they need to give our young people the best education possible,” said Education Minister Janet Ecker when she unveiled the RFP for the test. “It is consistent with requirements for other newly-trained professionals and will confirm that new teachers know their curriculum subjects and teaching methods before they enter a classroom.”

The RFP for the test states, “The Ontario Teacher Qualifying Test will be used to confirm the readiness of a new graduate from an Ontario faculty of education, or a teacher trained in another jurisdiction who wishes to begin a teaching career in education. The purpose of the test is to provide appropriate and fair evidence that each new teacher has an acceptable level of knowledge with respect to competencies and expectations in the Ontario curriculum, and knowledge of teaching skills and strategies, learning theory, special education, classroom management, the use of educational technologies, and knowledge of legislation relating to expectations for teachers. “Successful completion of this test will become an additional eligibility requirement for individuals applying to the Ontario College of Teachers for a Certificate of Qualification.”

The test will be based on competency statements derived from the College’s Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession. These competency statements were developed from the five standards and a number of key elements related to commitment to students and student learning, professional knowledge, teaching practice, leadership and community and ongoing professional knowledge.

The College has been invited – along with 17 other partners in education – to be a part of the advisory committee for the Ontario Teacher Qualifying Test and has named two representatives to the consultation.

P E R F O R M A N C E      A P P R A I S A L

The first RFP issued by the ministry is aimed at collecting information on effective policies and procedures in different school boards across the province and in other jurisdictions, as well as in other professions. The review of these practices will guide the design and implementation of a standards-based, province-wide performance appraisal program for teachers expected to be in place by the fall of 2001.

The establishment of a consistent performance appraisal process across the province was also recommended by the College in response to the Minister’s request for advice on teacher testing. “Our goal is to have a performance appraisal process that is consistent provincially and consistent in terms of expectations,” said Paul Anthony, director of Policy and Standards for the Ontario Teacher Testing Project. “One of the key issues to stress is that boards will clearly remain the employer and continue to manage the process by which they assess their employees.”

The RFP indicates, “The successful proponent will conduct a review of the actual operation of performance appraisal policies and procedures in a selected number of Ontario district school boards. The representative sample of 10 to 12 school boards will include public and Roman Catholic school district boards (English and French-language) and represent different regions of the province (North, South, East, West). “The review will describe the stated policies of each school board for the performance appraisal of their teachers. It will compare these policies to the ways by which they are implemented, both in terms of strengths and positive effects and in terms of implementation issues and shortcomings.”

“These standards would ensure that all teachers are evaluated by their principals and school boards in a consistent manner across Ontario. The ministry would also look into ways to ensure that low-performing teachers are given the time and supports needed to improve.” An important component of the plan – which was not part of the College advice to the Minister on teacher testing – is to give parents opportunities to be involved in teacher assessment and improvement.

The ministry has invited a number of educational partners and the College to participate on the work team for the teacher performance appraisal system. The College has named one representative.

T E A C H E R      R E - C E R T I F I C A T I O N

Another central plank of the government’s teacher testing program, which was not recommended by the College, is the re-certification of Ontario classroom teachers every five years. The government has not yet fleshed out the re-certification process, but it appears that it will include a number of components, like professional development activities with tests and other assessments, as well as remediation opportunities.

“Our intention is to consult the College and teachers’ federations to develop the re-certification process. We are also looking at what other professions do in the field,” said Anthony. “The goal of the process is to ensure that teachers keep their skills and knowledge up to date.”

On the matter of teacher re-certification, the Ministry of Education has established three separate series of consultation meetings with education stakeholder groups. College Deputy Registrar Doug Wilson will participate in all three. Education Minister Janet Ecker indicated when she spoke to the College Council in November that classroom teachers would likely be the priority for the first stage of the process.

The government expects the first phase of the re-certification process to start by the fall.

I N D U C T I O N      P R O G R A M

Another component of the government’s teacher testing plan includes an induction program. No date has been set yet for the program, but the two teacher testing RFPs indicate that the induction program for new teachers “would focus on teaching and classroom management skills. This program would provide these new teachers with coaching and support from more experienced colleagues to ensure they get a strong start at the beginning of their careers.”

The induction program follows a recommendation of the College in response to the Minister’s request for advice on a teacher testing program in Ontario. For more information on the government's teacher testing plan, visit the Ministry of Education’s web site at www.edu.gov.on.ca.

The College is currently evaluating the potential financial and operational cost to the College of the government’s teacher testing program. The design of the program may have a broad impact on a range of College activities.

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