By Guest Blogger George Thompson

OTF, the umbrella group for Ontario’s teacher unions has recently hired Lorna Earl, despite the fact that her conflict of interest case has yet to be resolved. The contract, given to her by OTF with money paid by the Ministry to survey teachers about “assessment”, would seem to represent yet another obvious conflict of interest, especially from the point of view of those teachers who question the ethics of the government’s externally imposed quotas for grades, it’s mandatory pass rates, and threats of intervention and take-over for low scores.

Even without the ongoing investigation, it seems obvious that Earl would be biased in favour of her other chief employers: EQAO, the Ontario Ministry of Education and her own Aporia Consulting Ltd.

Earl is a researcher with the Ministry of Education (where she spearheaded assessment reforms), and a board member of EQAO (where she oversees province-wide testing), and a “co-principal” with her own Aporia Consulting (where she offers expertise and training to boards in complying with her assessment policies). Indeed, the alleged conflict of interest is that she has received payments from boards to help them improve “achievement” which, in the language of today’s Ontario, simply means EQAO scores.

Thus, it could be argued that the ministry is paying OTF to pay Earl to evaluate the impact of assessment policies that the Ministry paid her to make and that the Government of Ontario is paying her to measure (through EQAO) and that boards are paying her to teach them how to implement. True one stop shopping.

According to an OSSTF district’s newsletter, “Teacher federations have raised many valid concerns about current practices, credit integrity etc. Among these concerns was the legitimate point that nobody has ever consulted the experts who deal with assessment every day — the classroom teachers. Therefore the Ministry hired OTF to conduct this project, and OTF subcontracted the research to Aporia Consulting, headed by Lorna Earl, a researcher of international reputation in this field who has worked several times with OSSTF in the past.”

Indeed, ministry money is now being used to indirectly hire a ministry employee to achieve its real objectives: to make teachers feel “consulted”; to take a measure of how well teachers are complying with assessment reforms; and justify imposing more professional development aimed at “re-aligning” teachers with the ministry’s new raise-your-EQAO-score-or-die agenda. One thing that is guaranteed about this supposed “consultation” is that the Ministry will put nothing but the usual flattery for teachers on the table, for the real outcome of this deal has already been pre-determined: “In 2010-2011, PD resources will be prepared for secondary teachers based on project findings.” Could anyone be naive enough to think that, after just passing Bill 177, which was intended to make Ministry dictated EQAO scores law, that the Liberals are suddenly going to back off their import ../css/of_the_No_Child Left_Behind agenda__One predictable_outcome will_be_the___8220.css;strategic funding” of more PD to force teachers into what Earl calls “data literacy” (Aporia offers PD on this kind of thing); this will train teachers how to align every aspect of pedagogy with the high-stakes testing at EQAO.

Earl’s “balanced” approach to assessment has sometimes been presented as something of a correction of the high-stakes testing of No Child Left Behind, with her additional focuses on “Assessment for” and “assessmnet as” learning. But these reforms are merely an expansion of the “data-driven” accountability agenda. They make every aspect of learning measureable and accountable. The proof that the new “balanced assessment” learning is a highly profitable expansion of the testing industry can be seen in the fact this is the preferred approach of the U.S. national testing agency, ETS. The Education Testing Service, which is a multi-billion dollar a year high-stakes test provider, owns the “Assessment Training Institute” which, headed by Rick Stiggins, promotes exactly the same “data driven” agenda of “assessment for” and “assessment as” learning, as can be seen in Stiggins’ “Assessment Manifesto”. Assessment “for” and “as” learning creates a lot of demand for products and services such as can be purchased with No Child Left Behind strategic funding from the Assessment Training Institute, such as benchmark assessment systems for measuring progress and endless teacher training courses. Moreover, such an approach makes school exclusively ABOUT assessment, which in the end, is nothing different from making it into even more of an accountability factory, an academy for full-time literacy and numeracy test prep.