testing.jpg (19074 bytes) College is Waiting to Hear on Testing Issues

In this, the last issue of Professionally Speaking during their mandate, Council Chair Donna Marie Kennedy and Registrar Margaret Wilson discuss what’s happening with teacher testing and what’s likely to happen during the next few months.

PS: It’s likely that the issue most top-of-mind for educators in Ontario is teacher testing. Education Minister Janet Ecker has announced that teachers will have to be re-certified every five years, that teacher applicants will have to pass an exam to become a member of the College and that there will be province-wide standards to ensure that all teachers are evaluated the same way across the province. Will the College be implementing these programs this fall?

DMK: The short answer is no. The College is waiting on Education Minister Janet Ecker and it isn’t likely that we will have any clarification of her remarks until sometime in the fall. We have had discussions with ministry staff about some of the College’s recommendations on the issue, but I have little concrete information from the ministry regarding their intentions.

MW: The ministry, of course, is well aware of Section 40 of the Ontario College of Teachers Act, which gives the College responsibility for regulations that set the terms, conditions and limitations for teaching certificates, including requirements respecting standards, qualifications, examinations and experience. We expect the ministry will respect our mandate.

I am meeting on a continuous basis with senior College staff to ensure that we have the resources on hand to move ahead with these initiatives as soon as we are clear as to how the Minister intends to respond to our recommendations.

Responsibilities on these issues are very clearly divided. The government develops a policy, as it did with teacher testing. Asked for advice, we gave it, but to date we have had no hand in developing the final policy.

PS: What will implementing these policies involve for the College?

MW: Well, first of all, let’s understand that the College has been working on many of these issues almost since we were first established in 1997. They do not represent new directions for us. We began developing a Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession document in 1998 and we now have a finished product that is beginning to be used widely in the field. Council recently approved the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession and we are well underway in developing a Professional Learning Framework. We expect that to be presented for approval in principle by the College Council this October.

DMK: The situation is similar for language proficiency. We recommended to the Ministry of Education in June 1999 that a language proficiency test be established. We asked that applicants to the College who have been educated and trained in a language other than English or French be required to pass a language proficiency test in one of those languages before they can be licensed to teach in Ontario.

Unfortunately, the Minister has removed one of the most crucial elements of the policy. The Minister has stated that the language proficiency test will be waived for those who have done only their teacher training in English or French. It is our strong belief that the eight months of teacher education may not be sufficient time to ensure that a teacher will acquire the language skills to teach in Ontario schools. The College has registered its disagreement with this change, but we have been told by the Minister that the policy will go ahead as the ministry has laid it out.

MW: The language proficiency issue highlights a problem for the College – the lag time between the date we are informed by the Minister of a specific regulation and the date by which it is to be implemented. We prepare as much as we can beforehand, but even so, operationalizing these new policies takes time. For example, if the ministry had accepted our recommendation on language proficiency when we first presented it in June 1999, we would have been able to implement it as early as January 2000. But a request to the College to take action in a particular area is just a first step. We still have to think about process, including the development of an application guide, the identification of testing providers, modifications to our registry system and the training of College staff. There is a tremendous amount of work involved that takes months to complete.

PS: Do you know how re-certification will work once it is in place?

MW: The College has been examining the issue of ongoing professional learning. How it will connect with re-certification remains an unknown. Until we receive further information, we can’t do much more than speculate about what it will look like.

PS: According to a recent public opinion poll by the Angus Reid Group, eight out of 10 Ontarians surveyed agree that "there should be compulsory and regular testing of teachers in our education system." Does that suggest to you that a large part of the public wants a stronger stance on teacher testing?

DMK: What it suggests is that the public agrees with the College that the teaching profession should be accountable for the quality of teaching in Ontario. But all our research – the results of which we presented to the Minister in April in our report Maintaining, Ensuring and Demonstrating Competency in the Teaching Profession – showed that no one has been able to develop a written test that accurately and comprehensively measures the knowledge and skills necessary in an experienced teacher. What we did find was that many other jurisdictions are taking the same approach as the College, which is to work towards developing a system that sets high standards for teachers, encourages and supports their professional learning throughout their career and monitors how well they meet expectations.