BRAMPTON, ONT. — A major Ontario teachers’ union is unfazed by government accusations that its rotating strikes will jeopardize standardized tests.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce blamed the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) Wednesday when he announced that school boards could delay some standardized tests until June. Grade 9 students were set to start taking their Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) math tests on Monday.
OSSTF has been staging one-day strikes and a work-to-rule campaign for months. The union’s 60,000 members stopped preparing students for EQAO tests in November.
“OSSTF said their job action would not impact students, but this is a clear example of union disruption affecting Ontario students,” Lecce said in a statement. “It is unfair that union actions are undermining student success.”
EQAO tests are standardized tests organized by Ontario’s government to measure how well students in Grades 3, 6, 9 and 10 are doing in reading, writing and math. The Grade 9 math test accounts for 10 per cent of a student’s final grade.
The province’s two largest school boards, in Toronto and Peel Region, said Wednesday they would postpone the test.
While Lecce spoke to reporters at Queen’s Park, OSSTF teachers at eight school boards walked off the job for a one-day strike.
At a protest outside the office of a Brampton MPP, OSSTF’s president said that delaying EQAO tests won’t actually hurt students.
“Here’s the reality … My education workers and my teachers, they’ll be supporting students, they’ll be teaching students, they’ll be providing extra help, they’ll be assessing students and providing feedback to parents,” Harvey Bischof told HuffPost Canada, meeting his members at the demonstration on a snowy sidewalk.
“Those are the things where real education happens — not in a standardized provincial test. So if this test gets postponed as a result of our action, it will not have a negative impact on any students.”
Meanwhile, Ontario’s Green party leader said the government should just scrap EQAO tests altogether.
“It is irresponsible to continue spending $30 million annually on EQAO, while draining funding for educators in the classroom and switching to online learning,” Mike Schreiner said in a statement, referencing the government’s plan to require high school students to take two courses online.
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“Adults in the classroom are the key to our public education system, not standardized testing.”
Some students and parents who posted on Twitter didn’t seem broken up about the EQAO delay.
OSSTF is one of four major unions in the middle of contentious contract negotiations with Premier Doug Ford’s government. OSSTF hasn’t met to negotiate with the government since Dec. 16, and no new bargaining dates are scheduled, Bischof said.
Unions say they’re standing up to a government that wants to increase class sizes, force students into online courses and cap salary raises for teachers. But Lecce says the disagreement is all about compensation.
He says OSSTF is making “unacceptable demands” that could cost the province $1.5 billion if extended to all education workers in Ontario.
Contracts for all teachers expired on Aug. 31. Three of the four big unions — OSSTF, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) — started taking steps toward strike action in the fall.
OECTA announced Wednesday that it will start its own work-to-rule campaign Monday.
“We have not taken this decision lightly, but we believe it is necessary to secure a fair contract and protect publicly funded education in Ontario,” OECTA president Liz Stuart said in a statement.
With files from the Canadian Press