ATA president Mark Ramsankar
ATA president Mark Ramsankar says he’s losing patience
Education Minister David Eggen promised delegates at the Annual Representative Assembly “frank and meaningful” conversations about the province’s Student Learning Assessment (SLA) program but stopped short of announcing that the program would be scrapped entirely.
“I want you to know that we are listening,” Eggen said. “The conversations about the third year of the rollout of the SLAs are ongoing as we speak and we will be engaging further with the ATA about this important matter in the days ahead.”
The annual Grade 3 assessment program rolled out for its second iteration last fall. From the outset, the program has attracted criticism for a variety of reasons. This past fall, the Alberta Teachers’ Association conducted a survey of participating teachers, and among the prevailing opinions was that the SLA program takes a lot of time and provides no new information.
Since being named education minister in May of 2015, Eggen has said that he’d like to revisit the program but has said little else publicly. During his speech to ARA delegates, he again asked for more time.
“I ask you for a bit of patience and know that our door is always open for productive and meaningful conversations,” he said. “We will be sharing more about the SLAs in the weeks ahead.”
Alberta Teachers’ Association president Mark Ramsankar, in a speech delivered after Eggen left, said he felt great optimism last year after the NDP government was elected, but has since run out of patience.
“The start of this new school year had me filled with hope — hope it would be different and that we would be experiencing meaningful change in our classrooms and our system as a whole,” Ramsankar said. “But the road we travel continues to be long and difficult at times. I will admit to you that it requires perseverance and patience. Unfortunately, patience is at a premium at this time.”
He said the Association was and still is supportive of replacing the Provincial Achievement Test (PAT) program with appropriate testing that would be diagnostic, inform teachers’ professional practice, provide parents with useful information about their children’s progress and contribute to public assurance.
The Association supports the introduction of a test that could be administered at the beginning of the school year or at various points throughout the year, as deemed appropriate by the teacher, he said. Teachers would use a variety of approaches, including performance-based assessments, which would be transparent in design and content and less open to abuses such as the aggregation of student scores for the purpose of evaluating jurisdiction, school and teacher performance, Ramsankar said.
He continued that the Association’s ongoing work to push for meaningful change in public education doesn’t include the current iteration of the SLA program.
“Work needs to be done and it needs to be done now,” he said.
Ramsankar alluded to the Association’s Summer Conference last August, when Eggen said the 2015 SLA administration should be regarded strictly as a pilot that may inform meaningful and far-reaching discussions about student evaluation and public assurance. Ramsankar said this message was well received by teachers at the time.
“However, at this time, I would be remiss if I did not communicate to you the deep and unresolved disappointment and feeling of betrayal that the SLA program in its current iteration has caused and will continue to cause teachers if immediate action is not taken.” ❚
We, the teachers of Alberta, move ...
ARA delegates passed three motions related to the SLA program.
Motion 3-63 calls for teachers to have the authority to decide whether, when and to whom to administer SLAs.
Motion 3-64 calls for SLA results to be released to the affected student, the student’s parents or guardians, the classroom teacher and others authorized by the classroom teacher.
Motion 3-65 calls for the government to immediately replace the SLA program with a diagnostic program focused on supporting classroom-based assessment.
The SLA issue prompted a number of comments from ARA attendees.
“Their definition of SLA is slow legislative action.”
“What we have witnessed in the past three years is a warping of the SLA program.”
“If it isn’t useful, why the heck are we doing it?”
A delegate from Palliser Local, whose school board opted out of this year's pilot: “During this year, not a single Grade 3 teacher has come to me and said, ‘If only I had the data from the SLAs', and not a single parent has said, ‘If only I had the data from the SLA, I would know my child.’”