Toronto’s Catholic school board will be testing the faith of its Grade 4 students — or at least their knowledge of it — in a controversial new religious exam.
The unique “religious knowledge test” was piloted in five schools last year and was to be rolled out in all Grade 4 classrooms this May, although half the board’s 12 trustees have already opted out.
The test asks students to fill in the missing words to the Lord’s Prayer or explain why “Jesus is the light of the world,” among other things.
“Even though there are a variety of things that separate (public and Catholic) boards, the tangible thing you see is the teaching of religion,” said trustee John Del Grande.
Testing is a way to ensure the quality of the religious education and show it is “an important part of the school curricula,” he added.
Teachers, however, argue students already write provincial literacy and numeracy tests in Grades 3, 6, 9 and 10 and this just adds to the burden.
“We’re worried that it kind of minimizes what Catholic education is all about,” said Anthony Bellissimo, president of the 4,000-member Toronto Elementary Catholic Teachers.
“We measure more by living out the faith. I mean it’s good to know the Ten Commandments, but what if a school doesn’t get 75 per cent (of students passing) but does all kinds of social justice initiatives? Are they going to say that school isn’t good enough?”
Del Grande says the test will be used to pinpoint areas of weakness or schools that may need help in delivering programming, and that neither schools nor students will be penalized for low marks. The test will take place this May in 77 schools across six wards of the Toronto Catholic District School Board at a cost of about $12,000.
No other public Catholic schools in Ontario are believed to offer such a test. In the U.S., private Catholic schools in about 12 dioceses take part in ACRE (Assessment of Catechical and Religious Education) yearly. Tests, with multiple choice and open-ended answer questions, are also written in various grades in some Australian schools.
Trustee Sal Piccininni, whose schools will not write the test, said those in the community he spoke to “found it to be quite silly.”