The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association settled with the Ford government after the dispute was taken to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. The settlement was announced by the EFTO last week.
After an Ontario Human Rights Commission recommendation to implement a universal screening tool for all children in kindergarten to Grade 2 to detect any early issues with literacy, government staff sent a memo to teaching staff implementing a universal screening tool. This implementation was strongly recommended, and union representatives argue it came across as mandatory.
EFTO leadership says this is an issue on the table in the current round of labour negotiations, and a dispute was taken to the Ontario Labour Board. There, it was settled that this tool is optional to use. The province says that was always the case.
“The government remains committed to screening all students between SK and Grade 2 as recommended by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, as we work to improve literacy rates in Ontario,” said Justin Saunders, director of issues and legislative affairs at the Ministry of Education. “We recognize the importance of screening students for reading comprehension and providing teachers the tools they can use to do so, so long as it is compliant with collective agreements, and that remains unchanged following the OLRB decision.”
The memo announcing the implementation of the screening tool from provincial staff includes a line saying that use of the tool will not interfere with the collective agreement: “This memorandum must be implemented in alignment with collective agreements. Where there is a conflict between the memorandum and a collective agreement, the collective agreement prevails.”
Jeff Pelich, president of the Waterloo chapter of ETFO, says the presentation of this memo needed to be clarified. “They said that [implementation was voluntary], but then they outlined: This should be done twice a year. This is how it should be done. These are the tools that will be used. And so there was that lack of clarity, and whenever there’s that lack of clarity, it creates that lack of understanding of what actually the expectations are. And so, you know, as a union, it did seem clear to us that it was something that was mandatory, and so we wanted to get that clarified.”
Pelich said teachers are trained in literacy screening and should be able to use their own judgment and the tools they think work best. He feels government staff cherry-picked this one recommendation from the Ontario Human Rights Commission report as something relatively easy to implement without addressing other issues.
Pelich says that testing literacy twice a year is only one part of ensuring literacy for everyone.
“Assessment methods and standardized tests are just one thing. The problem always is, once that test is done, we’re often still lacking the resources that we need to then do everything else in between. And really, the best student learning happens in between those tests, and without the resources in between the tests, how is a student ever going to progress? And without the human resources to work one-on-one with the student to have intensive support as needed? Again, how are they going to progress in between those tests? So, you know, assessment measures, they’re great, but it’s really the tools and the resources needed for the actual learning that I think ETFO and all unions are saying need to be put into place.”
Saunders says the government is investing heavily in literacy.
“Ontario is going back to basics in the classroom, with a focus on reading, writing and math. We have invested $32.6 million to boost literacy rates with screening tools and supports, in addition to the hiring of 2,000 literacy and math-focused educators, starting this September for the first time in Ontario. Students in grades 1-3 will have a minimum of 30 minutes of daily time focused on reading instruction and improvement,” he said.