Government Forced to Negotiate New Standardized Reading Tests

On August 23, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA) informed that they had settled an unfair labour practices complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board. They filed this complaint in response to the government's unilateral imposition of a new standardized test for reading called the Early Reading Screening Tool. The new test was imposed without negotiation with elementary teachers nor any training or resources to ensure that it could achieve its stated aim of identifying students with reading difficulties – many as a result of the pandemic.

In addition, the test was not backed up with the investment of resources to ensure that students identified early would receive the support they require. The test violated elementary educators' professional judgement because it was imposed without their involvement or expertise. What tests can and cannot be used, and how they are used, was also the subject of negotiations at the bargaining table. The government clearly does not take these seriously as it wants all matters settled outside of negotiations – either through its own dictate or that of the Labour Board through arbitration.

The week that the complaint was to be heard, the government offered to settle. They made it clear that teachers should use their professional judgement to determine the best ways to identify and support students who are struggling to read, something teachers already do, however with less and less support.

In a press release, the unions stated:

"On August 22, ETFO and OECTA reached settlements with the government. In those settlements, the government confirms that the use of the Early Reading Screening Tool by teachers is no longer mandatory for the 2023-24 school year – educators will continue to use their expertise to identify and address students' unique individual needs. The government also commits to returning to the bargaining table to resolve the issue in good faith. The government will be issuing a memorandum to school boards to advise of the change in direction."

"We call on the Ford Conservative government to learn from this error in judgement and bargain in good faith. Our message to the government is clear: keep bargaining issues at the bargaining table or we will continue to take swift action to protect our members' bargaining rights and public education. Both of our associations will continue to work toward realizing a fair, negotiated agreement that supports all students, educators, and families," the press release concluded.

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 8 - August 2023

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