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Standardized testing in Ontario universities

This fall, several Ontario colleges and universities will be administering entrance exams that will assess the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills of incoming students. Upon graduation, members of this fall 2016 cohort will take the assessment again to determine whether post-secondary institutions are preparing students with the skills and competencies required for the workforce. If the pilot is successful, Ontario may become the first province in Canada to require entrance and exit exams for post-secondary students.

Recent employer surveys indicate post-secondary graduates are lacking in soft skills like communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration. As a result, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) advised the government to adopt the OECD’s Education and Skills Online assessment to gain empirical insights into the situation. The exams are not required for acceptance or graduation; rather, they will highlight whether there are skills gaps and inform a plan to fill them.

Standardized testing is limited in Canada. The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) administers reading, writing, and math tests in Grades 3, 6, 9, and 10. Of these, only the Grade 10 Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test requires successful completion for graduation.

Not all universities and colleges are keen on the idea of implementing standardized exams. This attitude is reflected in the results of a comprehensive 2015 study that shows 83% of post-secondary institutions believe their alumni have the soft and hard skills to succeed in the workforce; however, the same study shows only 34% of employers and 44% of students agree. Despite this, institutions like the University of Toronto, a member of the HECQO Learning Outcomes Assessment Consortium, is choosing not to participate in the pilot.

While not a popular program among most stakeholders, the HEQCO believes the initiative is necessary to benchmark the hard and soft skills students have entering and exiting post-secondary education. The majority of the initiative’s final results are expected in 2020 and will inform the future of skills training and standardized testing Ontario post-secondary education.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and marketing strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also a part-time faculty member at Centennial College and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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