Ontario is going to resume standardized testing in grades 3 and 6 this school year — and has already restarted province-wide math and literacy tests in high school — to help pinpoint where kids have fallen behind during the pandemic.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce made the announcement Thursday afternoon at a library in Vaughan, along with early notice for boards of funding levels for the coming school year of $26.1 billion — a 2.7 per cent increase — or $13,059 per student.
The pandemic “has led to significant disruption at home and abroad for students,” Lecce said. “For many students, it has left them struggling with mental health challenges and with learning loss.”
He said “we know that so many students have gaps in some of the foundations of learning … we are now at a point where we believe we need to be able to better understand the problem” by using the standardized tests to set a baseline for improvement, as well as mental health surveys and other measures.
Both the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association said the funding news gives boards time to plan for the 2022-23 school year.
“We welcome the focus on those students who really struggled with their learning needs,” said public school association president Cathy Abraham, something both associations had pressed for.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging and stressful time for students, staff, and our broader school communities,” she also said.
However, critics accused the province of dragging its feet, only proposing to comprehensively address learning loss two years into the COVID crisis.
“The funding announcement doesn’t keep up with inflation, so it is not an increase as the government is trying to present it as,” said NDP education critic Marit Stiles. “… But where it really fails — it doesn’t actually put in place the significant funding and support that our kids are going to need, not just today and tomorrow but over the next few years.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” she added. “It’s a little bit too little, too late.”
She also said the stress of taking EQAO standardized tests in reading, writing or math in grades 3, 6 and 9 and 10 isn’t going to be good for students and that learning loss “is not going to be captured in a one-time-only test.”
Two years after the pandemic hit, there is still very little Ontario data available on how students have fared, though research in other jurisdictions — where kids spent much less time learning online — has shown up to three months of academic losses. The Toronto District School Board, the country’s largest, found a nine-percentage-point drop in Grade 1 student reading levels for students learning online, and a three-point drop for those learning in-person.
As first reported by the Star, the province is also boosting funding for reading supports for kids who are struggling, as well as $174 million more to boards for tutoring — starting now — and an expanded summer school program.
It is also giving boards $304 million for temporary staffing to help with pandemic needs, de-streaming Grade 9 subjects and remote learning.
A staple during the worst of the waves during the pandemic, full-time online learning will continue to be an option for students in the upcoming school year. (Lecce said this school year, 150,000 of the province’s two million students chose to learn from home.)
Mental health and student well-being will be supported through a $90-million grant, as well as requiring educators to attend professional development on the issue. The government is also going to consult “on the potential of a graduation requirement on resilience and mental well-being.”
The $175 million for tutoring will be run by boards — using educational assistants, post-secondary students or others — or community groups, and allow students extra help in small groups of about five after school or on weekends.