Students and teachers need to be supported, not tested

Release Date  2019 03 26

“Instead of addressing the real issues of growing class sizes and a lack of adequate supports for students with special needs, the United Conservative Party election platform proposes new high-stakes testing for six-, seven- and eight-year-old children and for all teachers,” says Alberta Teachers’ Association President Greg Jeffery. “Its priorities are misplaced and misguided.”

“Class size is the unsolved crisis of the past 14 years and unless something is done right away, the continuing failure to support inclusion will be the crisis of the next four years,” said Jeffery. “Unfortunately, the UCP plan fails to make a firm commitment to fund continuing enrolment growth and is absolutely silent on the issues of inclusion and classroom complexity.”

Jeffery was responding to a sweeping 13-point program that would have a UCP government revisit settled issues while failing to explicitly address successive funding shortfalls that have resulted in constantly increasing class sizes while denying teachers the resources and support they need to respond to an increasingly diverse student population.

“The province must fully fund enrolment growth just so we can keep up and schools still need an additional infusion to catch up for years of unfunded inflation and to respond to the constantly growing expectations of parents and the community,” said Jeffery.

Instead of addressing those core problems, the UCP platform will create new challenges for already struggling schools and teachers. Jeffery specifically highlighted the UCP’s promise to implement standardized testing for students in grades 1, 2 and 3 and to increase the weighting of the Grade 12 diploma examinations to 50 per cent of a student’s final mark.

“Let’s not kid ourselves: teachers know better than any bubble-in-the-answer test how students are progressing, whether it be in math and reading in the early years or at the end of a Grade 12 course—these tests are enormously expensive to develop and administer and the notion that more testing will magically improve teaching and learning is nonsensical.”

“Given the UCP’s commendable commitment to focusing existing funding on the front line and the party’s desire to cut bureaucracy and teacher workload, I’m astounded that the UCP would choose to resurrect and even expand on some of the worst ideas advanced by the discredited 2014 Taskforce on Teaching Excellence. Commentary on points seven and 12 of the UCP platform references a taskforce proposal to implement continuous recertification and introduces a new proposal for teacher testing. Now, as then, these proposals are unnecessary and insulting to the province’s 45,000 teachers—just how will this added bureaucracy improve teaching and learning? What problem is it supposed to fix?”

Jeffery also described proposals to revisit curriculum work now completed, to give free rein to charter schools, and reduce protections for LGBTQ students and staff as being potentially disruptive and divisive while providing little of value to the 93 per cent of students who attend the province’s public, separate and francophone schools.

“Teachers live education in Alberta,” said Jeffery, “We have an obligation to speak out and share our knowledge and understanding with Albertans, particularly at this critical time. You can expect to hear from us again as the other parties release their education platforms.”

ATA President Greg Jeffery will address the UCP Education Platform and take questions at 1:00 pm this afternoon (March 26, 2019) at the ATA Headquarters – 11010-142 St. All media are invited to attend. For those unable to attend in-person, you may join a conference call by calling 780-447-9400 (1-800-232-7208). Ask to join the news conference.

 

Background Information

Backgrounder: The UCP Platform and the 2013/14 Task Force on Teaching Excellence

Point 7 of the UCP platform states that a UCP government would:

Focus on excellence in outcomes, including benchmarking the Alberta education system against leading global jurisdictions; ensuring teachers have expertise in subject areas by introducing teacher testing; expand options for schools to facilitate expertise; requiring that the education faculties in Alberta’s universities themselves require that teachers take courses in the subjects they will one day teach in schools.

Point 12 goes on to promise that the UCP would:

Review and implement selected recommendations from the Task Force for Teaching Excellence.

This will include:

  • Establishing alternative pathways to teaching certification for those in specialized areas of knowledge
  • Introducing more regular assessment of teacher performance
  • Ensuring subject-matter competence

The Task Force for Teaching Excellence was created on Sept 11, 2013 and issued its report on May 5 2014. Background on the Task Force creation and mandate can be found at https://bit.ly/2FsDVoy while comprehensive commentary on its report, published at the time, is available at https://bit.ly/2Uhf3JI. The report itself is available at https://open.alberta.ca/publications/6796495#summary. The Task Force was widely viewed as an attack on teachers and the profession and the government backed away from it in the months that followed.

The Task Force’s Recommendation 21 proposed to reject the provincial Teacher Growth, Supervision and Evaluation Policy (TGSE) introduced under the Klein government following a consultation process in 1998.  The TGSE replaced arbitrary processes in place in the 1980s and 1990s that placed enormous weight on cyclical evaluation and insufficient weight on professional growth. Rather than cyclical evaluation of teachers whose competence was not questioned, the TGSE freed up resources to deal with teachers whose teaching practice needed improvement. A key element of the policy continues to be supervision. A teacher is always supervised, and if there are concerns about a teacher’s practice, an evaluation can be initiated at any time and does not have to wait until a formal evaluation cycle begins.

The task force proposed a program of recertification recommending that each teacher be evaluated each year by their principal and a written evaluation produced. The evaluation would include input from parents, other teachers and students. It would be based on the “demonstration of continued growth, currency and competency.” Competence is not assumed in this process—teachers are required to prepare a teaching excellence dossier to provide evidence that their certificate should be “maintained.”

The scheme would consume multiple hours of teacher time and even more principal time. Already busy principals would be distracted from ongoing teacher supervision, school improvement and other important instructional leadership duties in order to perform meaningless evaluations of teachers who are well known to be performing well.

In sum, the Task force wanted to move away from professional relationships and impose management structures for teacher evaluation. In order to diminish the profession and the ATA, the task force further advocated that practice review, currently a process that can be triggered by school superintendents if a teacher is believed to be incompetent, be handled by the minister of education. The task force preferred a demoralizing and wasteful combination of surveillance, directed growth, ongoing evaluation, recertification and management-labor relations over professional growth, capacity building, ongoing supervision and collegiality. A more comprehensive critique of this Task Force recommendation can be found at https://bit.ly/2CDrLZx and a satirical imagining of a similar policy respecting healthcare at https://bit.ly/2FCPefb.

The Association’s formal and complete response to the Task Force, Great teachers, great schools: Supporting and enhancing teachers’professional practice, can be read at http://bit.ly/2HIdij7.

Please direct all media inquiries to:

Mark Milne
Media Liaison, Alberta Teachers’ Association
T: 780-447-9462
C: 780-905-0014
Mark.Milne@ata.ab.ca