The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) is looking for colleges and universities to participate in a pilot project that will test incoming students with a 90-minute online assessment of literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills. They plan to administer the same test to the cohort when they graduate. 

While the test will not be required for admission or graduation from an institution, the Education and Skills Online assessment from the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development believes that it will reveal whether students end up building the above skills or not.

Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news & media relations, said that U of T will not be participating in the project. “While U of T is a member of the HEQCO Learning Outcomes Assessment Consortium (along with Queen’s, Guelph, and three colleges), U of T is not currently planning to implement a standardized exit exam. We look forward to reviewing the evidence from the pilot projects at other universities,” Blackburn-Evans explained.

Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union, believes that these are skills that students should have upon graduation. “If students do not have these skills after a 4 year degree — that is on the institution for failing to provide a learning environment that can foster those skills and it is good that universities are showing signs of wanting to tackle this problem,” he said. “However, I believe that any move to administering a test should be done carefully and be [thoroughly] scrutinized before being implemented.”

Emma Stairs, a fourth-year student at U of T, thinks the tests are a good idea. “I think it would be really good to have these tests because if that’s what the marketing is demanding we should be teaching, training and guiding our students in that direction.”

Stairs expressed doubts about standardized tests in general, though. “I don’t think this [test] would be able to test people for social skills, emotional control and interaction tendencies, which are also all necessary in the [workplace]. People offer all different sorts of things within the job market and it is everyone’s uniqueness, creativity and selfhood that improve the workplace.”

Shihipar shares a similar opinion on the debate over standardized testing: “I agree that the education we receive in university should be better at providing these essential skills — not just for the marketplace, but for good life skills as well. However, a test (even if it has no impact) administered to measure these skills may not be the solution to combating this problem. Standardized tests are not a very holistic way to measure things especially essential life skills. It is conceivable that any test that is made may not accurately capture the skills students have.”

Shihipar added, “It should also be noted that plenty of students at university have these skills. But with a large [number] of university grads in the marketplace and a bad economy, employment is hard to find. That needs to be acknowledged, [it’s] not that students are just impotent.”