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Scrap testing to reduce class sizes: ETFO

Andrew Philips

By Andrew Philips, Special to Postmedia Network

The province should do away with widespread testing and use the savings to reduce class sizes.

That's according to Janet Bigham, president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) Simcoe County chapter.

Bigham said there are concerns with the size of kindergarten classes across the region along with those for students in Grades 4 to 8, which regularly fall in the 28- to 30-student range but sometimes come in at more than 30 kids per class.

"The more students in a class, the less individual time they have," she said.

What makes this more alarming, according to Bigham, is the fact many classrooms now feature more students identified as requiring extra attention through special education and/or individualized education programs.

"Schools have the same level (of funding), but there are more needs in the school," she said, pointing out the increase has outpaced the grants to support special-education requirements. "More students are being identified."

Bigham said the province could easily find savings by moving funds from the $36-million annual budget of the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) that administers standardized tests provincewide to Ontario's Grade 3 and 6 students.

"They don't need to test every student in the province," Bigham said, noting the province could transfer to a random-sample model to effectively assess student learning levels.

ETFO president Sam Hammond said the province needs to make good on its 2010 promise by immediately reviewing its education funding formula to address funding shortfalls for students with special needs and English-language learners.

"The Liberal government has increased education funding since 2003, but it has only gone partway in addressing the $2 billion in cuts imposed by the previous Progressive Conservative government," Hammond said during a recent budget deputation to the province's Finance and Economic Affairs Committee.

"Programs such as special education, English as a second language (ESL) and the arts continue to be shortchanged at the elementary level, and class sizes continue to be an issue."

According to ETFO, at least 14 public boards are struggling with cuts to special education and some are laying off education assistants, who "are crucial in assisting teachers to meet the needs of all students."

When it comes to ESL, 73% of English elementary schools now have English-language learners (ELLs), compared to 43% in 2002-03, and the number is growing with the arrival of refugees from war-torn nations such as Syria, stated a release sent by ETFO, which represents 78,000 elementary public school teachers, occasional teachers and education professionals across the province.

The release stated "provincial grants for ELL students are inadequate and overall shortfalls in the funding formula have lead school boards to use their second-language grants for other purposes." 

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