With the drop of her writing utensil, Faye was finished with her EQAO test, nearly shaking from the pressure. She’d always had anxiety from tests, but this one was different. It was as if all of the information she learned in class was wiped away from her brain, just like that.
The math section was her worst. Those numbers were scary. The different lessons she’d had training for this only gave her more reason to freak out and skip the problem, and after the exam was finished, she and her mom looked at each other in shock:
Many parents (and students) in Ontario have reservations about whether big tests like the EQAO, or Educational Quality and Accountability Office tests are hurting rather than helping students, arguing that they place unnecessary pressure on students, especially those who suffer from general and testing anxiety like Faye.
Teachers needed to meet quotas. Districts needed to show numbers. But all of this was at the expense of the student, especially those who knew the concepts but spent so much time “in training” that the concepts weren’t resonating on a conceptual level.
Faye has always had anxiety when it comes to test-taking. And where she lived in Ontario, this test needed to be taken four separate times.
The EQAO test is an assessment to measure how students are learning in Ontario school systems. Each student has to take one in 3rd, 6th, 9th, and 10th grade and is tested in the subjects of reading, writing, and math. The final EQAO test is called OSSLT and is required in order to graduate. This means that students must pass it in order to get their diploma, and if they don’t, they have to keep re-taking it until they do.
Typically, these tests aren’t a huge deal for students who’ve stayed up-to-date in their schooling and who are strong test-takers. But for students like Faye who have anxiety, they can be more traumatic than beneficial to the learning process.
An opinion article on The Star written by Sachin Maharaj voices why we should end EQAO testing. A PhD candidate and Canada Graduate Scholar in educational policy at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, Maharaj strongly believes that preparations for these tests are alleviating vital time for kids to practice play-based learning.
He claims the problem with the EQAO is that it transitioned; it was initially meant to solely assess the performance of the system as a whole, but year after year, each test has been seen more as an assessment on individual school boards, schools, teachers and students. Schools started placing more and more emphasis on training for it so they could improve their students' scores, some even eliminating vital learning activities like free play for elementary age kids from the curriculum to fit in time training and preparing for it.
So-- what does this mean for kids like Faye? It means that emphasis was placed more on her test performance rather than how the concepts were sticking in her brain conceptually and holistically. As long as she passed, the district looked good.
Faye was a good student. She paid attention, asked lots of questions, and stayed for extra help when she didn’t understand something. But her testing anxiety would always get in the way of her ability to keep her grades up, especially when she didn’t have an avenue to understand concepts outside of strict training and test-prep exams.
Her mother Elizabeth had spoken to her teachers about her anxiety surrounding the test, but none were flexible about providing alternatives. The district was strict about ensuring students were ready for the EQAO, which meant that teachers were required to prepare students for test-taking-- no matter how much students struggled with it.
For Elizabeth, this was the breaking point. She’d seen Faye suffer through tests enough, and knew that there needed to be a way to learn math that didn’t involve pass/fail grades. Faye had the chops to understand the material, but every time she was faced with a quiz or a test, her anxiety got the best of her. She didn’t have the understanding of an engaging math tool that she could remember come test-time to relieve her anxiety; only cold, hard practice exams.
Elizabeth had engaged in countless books and Youtube videos on how to help Faye improve on her test-taking abilities. The more techniques she tried, the more she realized that her help was only making things more stressful for Faye.
Then, she found a video about a gamified app for math word problems that didn’t have any grades, red marks, or “game overs”. It was called Elephant Learning, created by their Chancellor, Dr. Aditya Nagrath, who taught himself C++ math at age fourteen while equally understanding the importance of teaching math as a universal language.
Elizabeth liked the attitude of seeing math as a language and investigated more into Elephant Learning. She saw that there were no grades, but that kids were guaranteed to learn a year of math in 3 months or less. She read the case studies, asked other parents, and decided that this might be a solution that helps Faye’s understanding without punishing her or giving her test anxiety.
Elizabeth knew that Faye practiced with other gamified apps in school, but noticed that her success in them was only relevant when her teacher deemed it was. She wanted the platform to be less of a stressor, and more of a fun escape, while also teaching her basic math foundations that would alleviate math-related stress come test-time.
Faye started the math platform hesitantly. Math was her least favorite subject, and especially after failing the EQAO test, she felt little inspiration to get back up after her fall.
What her mom didn’t tell her was that her first experience with Elephant Learning was an initial exam-- but Elizabeth later realized she didn’t have to hide anything after all. The “exam” didn’t feel like one at all; rather, Faye got to pick her animal avatar, and hit the ground running, playing on a game that felt like Angry Birds with numbers.
After the exam, Faye got her Elephant Age, an indicator of her current math knowledge. Just like a regular age, Elephant Ages only move up, showing kids that they never lose knowledge; only gain it. At 10 years old, Faye had an Elephant Age of 8.76. But within one month, that age had skyrocketed.
The game started becoming what she looked forward to after her homework. Our team recommends students use the platform no more than 10 minutes a day for 3 days a week, but Faye wanted to play for much, much longer. It became the reward system she’d have after doing homework, and the more she practiced, the more her Elephant Age got higher and higher.
All while never feeling the least bit nervous like she did in her school’s practice exams.
Elizabeth was worried initially that the game, like tests, would bring Faye more anxiety than understanding, but was surprised that the outcome was exactly the opposite.
Elephant Learning seemed to be the perfect mix: first, a technologically advanced program that uses gap-detection, UI aging, and a seamlessly adapting system that tracks each and every question Faye answered. Then, a system that was actually fun; with engaging visuals, fun games, and a tangible tracking system through the Elephant Age to show students exactly when and where they were improving.
What was even better was Elizabeth’s ability to track Faye’s process without having to hang around over her shoulder. The system utilizes email reporting, playtime analysis, output history, and video coaching so Elizabeth could understand how Faye was doing and how she as the parent could help.
Getting to the root of Faye’s understanding was as simple as Elephant Learning; bringing a stress-free, engaging approach to mathematics so understanding can easily be recalled.
Now, as Elizabeth and Faye prepare for her to retake the EQAO exam, they can keep the Elephant Learning platform top of mind, with the knowledge that learning, understanding, and testing don't have to be all stress!