New EQAO rules allow students to use headphones and online calculators during the test

TORONTO – Students taking standardized tests in Ontario schools this year will be able to wear headphones and access online calculators and language resources, said the Education Quality and Accountability Office of Ontario.

EQAO assessments manager Steven Reid said the agency is making changes to the rules after consulting with educators and parents to better reflect regular assessment environments in classrooms. The aim of the changes is to reduce the level of stress students feel when taking tests – not to boost scores, which have regularly fallen in areas like math, he said.

“We think we’ll get the best information from students if they’re in a comfortable environment,” Reid said. “If it uses headphones, then it uses headphones.”

New rules released on Friday say students taking the tests will be able to wear headphones and listen to music or white noise.

Students will also be able to access the Internet for some online educational tools such as translators and calculators through online applications.

Reid said only students who wear headphones or use the other teaching aids during regular school hours will be able to use them during EQAO tests.

“Students will really be more comfortable, that’s what we want,” he said. “We want them to come into the classroom and it’s just another day.”

Reid said teachers will now also be able to leave classroom displays and student work, only removing material that is “teaching in nature” during testing.

“We really don’t want students walking into a classroom where nothing is on the walls or everything is covered up,” he said. “That’s where we’ll have consistency across the province.”

Standardized test results released in August showed that the math scores of primary students in public schools have declined over the past five years, indicating government efforts to reverse the trend have not worked.

EQAO data shows that 49% of Grade 6 students achieved the provincial standard in mathematics in the last school year, down from 54% in 2013-14. According to EQAO, among Grade 3 students, 61% met the provincial standard in 2017-18, down from 67% in 2013-14.

Meanwhile, 45% of Grade 9 students enrolled in the applied math course met the standard, while that figure was 84% ​​for those in the theoretical math course. Academic courses focus more on abstract applications of concepts, while applied courses focus on practice.

Reid said EQAO will continue to modernize its approach to testing, but will also ensure its assessments are rigorous.

“Long term, we’re hoping…to make it an environment that might be a little more fun for students and maybe a little less stressful,” he said.

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