Question: Which bonehead up at Barnett House helped design these stupid Student Learning Assessments (SLAs) that are adding to my workload? I just can’t believe this.
Answer: There are no boneheads up at Barnett House.
There’s no question that it’s been a rocky road to date with SLAs. However, we should start at the beginning. The Association supports the SLAs in general—we believe, in fundamental terms, that a diagnostic approach to testing provides much more useful and valid information to teachers (and parents, too). We have no interest in a return to provincial achievement tests and a seriously flawed approach to testing.
While we support SLAs, that should not be interpreted to mean that we support everything about SLAs. It’s not our preference that SLAs occur at the front end of Grade 3 (Grade 4 may be a better option), and we would clearly devise a different format for the tests. Do you really need a digital component for students in the first two months of Grade 3? The bottom line, however, is that SLAs are vastly preferred over provincial achievement tests, and provide much better information all around.
This is a pilot year for SLAs, and for some reason I have to say I do not understand, virtually every school jurisdiction has been accepted into the pilot. The pilot has become a system implementation, and that should not be the case. Boards that volunteered to be part of the pilot have to accept the terms of the pilot—that they deliver on the expectations of the pilot to maximize prospects for success.
Participation in the SLA pilot brings with it very clear implications for teacher workload, with an expectation that those workload issues be managed as a part of the pilot. In some jurisdictions, teachers have been provided with release time, and there are joint efforts underway to make sure the tasks related to SLA delivery and marking are manageable. In other jurisdictions, there has been little attention paid to the concerns of teachers.
Education Minister Gordon Dirks and ATA President Mark Ramsankar discussed SLAs this past week, and the minister extended the time frame for SLAs and requested boards ensure that they address the workload needs of teachers so that the SLA pilot administration is successful. Grade 3 teachers whose workloads remain adversely affected by the SLA test administration, marking and reporting should work through their principal and their superintendent to ensure that these tasks are manageable. Our assessment to date is that insufficient support is being provided to teachers, notwithstanding the minister’s expectations of school jurisdictions.
There will be an evaluation of the pilot administration, and the results of the experience will be used to determine how best to proceed in the future. There needs to be much more clarity with respect to managing teacher workload for test administration, marking and reporting. This may require the department to rethink the test format (including the digital component) and test timelines. There may be a need to be more directive with school boards about release time requirements for teachers. The Association will continue to raise members’ concerns and continue to press for effective solutions. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (firstname.lastname@example.org).