Math scores and curriculum questions raised during fall session
The fall session of Alberta’s legislative assembly wrapped up on Dec. 13 after a total of 22 days of sitting that began on Oct. 31. Here are highlights of the education issues raised in question period and other proceedings between Dec. 5 and 13.
Oral question period,
Dec. 5 – Dec. 13
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean posed questions to Premier Rachel Notley on the issue of the 2015 PISA results, noting that Alberta is below average in math in Canada and the rest of the world. Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora) answered on Notley’s behalf and stated that the government shares the concern that has been highlighted through the scores, and that they are moving forward to provide the best supports when it comes to math and literacy skills. She added that, “some of the changes we announced are reinstating a written portion for the math diploma exam, something that we think is very important and that it was a mistake because of past budget cuts to take that portion out.” Brian Jean added that he believes that the ATA is the government’s “ally” in rejecting standardized testing and that the government has put the ATA in charge of rewriting Alberta’s curriculum. Hoffman responded by stating that the government is working to create bursary programs to support preservice teachers and help strengthen their knowledge, skills and confidence in teaching math. She concluded by noting that Budget 2015 and 2016 allowed the government to support 1,100 new teachers and protect more than 800 teaching assistants, and hire almost 260 more.
Mark Smith (WR—Drayton Valley-Devon) posed questions to Education Minister David Eggen about the expert working group that will spearhead the rewrite of the K–12 curricula and whether the minister would release the names of the committee to the public. Eggen answered that there are 300 individuals from the Alberta Teachers’ Association, from the Department of Education, from universities, and other groups and that there is “sensitivity around these individuals.” Smith then asked whether parental choice in education will be protected. Eggen said that the government is working with a wide diversity of groups to build the new curriculum and strengthen all forms of education.
Curriculum survey completion
Greg Clark (AP—Calgary-Elbow) asked Education Minister David Eggen why the curriculum survey was so long, technical and complex and if the questions were designed to elicit the government’s desired outcomes. Eggen answered that there were more than 32,000 respondents, of which 25,000 filled out both parts A and B. He concluded that the process is very transparent and the government takes curriculum development very seriously.
Dave Rodney (PC—Calgary-Lougheed) asked Education Minister David Eggen when parents will no longer have to pay school fees. Eggen responded that it is the government’s intention to reduce school fees, and they have been working to build a thoughtful plan to ensure that they are focusing specifically on instructional fees. Given the last two difficult budgets, the government chose to instead fund student enrollment and hire additional teachers and support staff to keep schools functioning at a high level.
Rodney then mentioned a Metro article that quoted the Calgary Association of Parents and School Councils expressing serious concerns that school fees are not staying in schools. He asked Eggen whether the ministry would publish detailed records of the total dollars collected in school fees and where the money is going. Eggen responded that he works with all school boards to ensure they are demonstrating financial transparency and making proper use of the funds collected. He added that over the next couple of years, the government will have an approach that will reduce school fees.
Student achievement in mathematics
Thomas Dang (ND—Edmonton-South West) questioned Education Minister David Eggen about the latest OECD PISA results and noted his constituents were very concerned with Alberta’s declining math scores. Eggen responded that the government is taking action in three ways: reinstating the written portion of the diploma exam for 30–1 and 30–2, adding a no-calculator portion to the Grade 9 PAT exam, and introducing a bursary program for current and preservice teachers to help cover tuition costs to help strengthen their knowledge and confidence in teaching mathematics in Alberta schools. Eggen concluded with a statement that math curriculum review is also underway.
Robyn Luff (ND—Calgary-East) made a statement about mathematics education and the report of the Mathematics Curriculum Review Working Group. One of the recommendations from the report spawned a new government bursary program for preservice teachers.
Denise Woolard (ND—Edmonton Mill Creek) made a statement about the importance of mental health resources for Albertans, and in particular in schools. She noted that many schools no longer have school counsellors on a regular basis, and some students have noted that there are few mental health resources available for youth.