Delegates at the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s Annual Representative Assembly (ARA) were caught off guard by an announcement that participation in the second year of the province’s Grade 3 Student Learning Assessment (SLA) pilot will be mandatory for all Grade 3 students in the fall of 2015.
The announcement from Alberta Education deputy minister Lorna Rosen came late in the afternoon on the Friday prior to the May long weekend, when the Association gathered for its annual policy-setting assembly.
“The unilateral decision to proceed with full implementation without the support of the government’s own working group is bewildering,” said Association president Mark Ramsankar.
The surprise directive outlined only minor changes to address teachers’ concerns, he said.
“I find it odd that such an announcement about what has been a very contentious initiative would be made given that the government is in transition. It makes me wonder who made this decision.”
The SLA issue was already on the ARA agenda, due to a resolution brought forward by Provincial Executive Council to “urge the government to place a moratorium on the current Student Learning Assessment program until such time as the profession’s concerns regarding the program are addressed.”
“While the Association fully supports the founding principles that established the SLA program, there are significant issues surrounding the program, which include lack of consultation and attention to the learning needs of students,” past president Carol Henderson told ARA delegates while outlining the rationale for the resolution.
“By pressing on with an inappropriate digital testing platform that builds more data analytics capacity, all we have now is PAT 2.0 — a rebooted version of the old provincial achievement testing program,” she added.
Among the concerns voiced by delegates was the difficulty in administering the computer-based assessments in schools where computers aren’t used, such as on Hutterite colonies.
In that setting, the tests are administered using printed screen stats, then answers painstakingly entered manually into the system, delegates heard. For the portion of the assessment that involves audio samples, the teachers are required to vocalize sound effects like “whoosh.”
“I strongly urge you to support this motion so I don’t have to do sound effects next year!” said one teacher.
Delegates voted overwhelmingly in favour of the resolution.
In reviewing the SLA program, the assembly approved an alternative to the current focus on multiple-choice questions and gathering data on student performance. Resolution 2-9/15 expresses the profession’s view that the focus of the SLA program should be to provide quality information to teachers based on performance assessments that can be used to enhance the teaching and learning process.
Looking ahead, Ramsankar said he’s eager to conduct consultations with government.
“I’m hopeful the new government will recognize that the current SLA program must move beyond the old provincial achievement testing culture of surveillance and control, to one of collaboration that taps into the expertise of Alberta teachers through the Association.” ❚