Last month, an editorial I wrote in this paper on changes to the Grade 6 math Provincial Achievement Test (PAT) made some waves after a statement in it drew the attention of some, including the Wildrose Party. I closed the column by stating that tweaks to PATs will be irrelevant once the tests have been eliminated “as promised.”
Of course, I was referring to the May 2013 announcement made by then education minister Jeff Johnson that PATs would be ended and replaced with beginning-of-the-year assessments. Yet, three years later, we still have PATs.
The response to the “as promised” clause in reference to the elimination of PATs was interesting to say the least. Wildrose education critic and former teacher Mark Smith challenged current education minister David Eggen to clarify his position on standardized testing.
“With the ATA seeming to set the agenda about standardized testing, Minister Eggen needs to provide clarity about what exactly he is planning to do about PATs and other standardized and international tests,” said Smith.
A Calgary parent group posted a release that suggested some sort of backroom deal between Eggen and the Association. The group’s spokesperson said that Alberta Education has “essentially given the union control over curriculum development” and this, combined with my editorial, according to the group confirmed that a secret agreement must exist.
I wish we had a firm agreement with Eggen to finally eliminate PATs. We do not. I was merely hoping to push the minister to confirm his intention to move forward on the last stated public position of the government on PATs: to get rid of them.
Eggen did reply to the Wildrose statement. In a tweet, he wrote, “We are not removing standardized tests. What I have committed to is finding the best testing model for our students.”
Because the Association’s long-standing policy to eliminate PATs is voted on every three years with near unanimity among 500 teachers at the Annual Representative Assembly, I found it odd that a teacher as education minister and a teacher as education critic would trade barbs over protecting standardized tests.
But I suppose this is recognition that we still have work to do with the public and elected officials over issues with standardized testing.
Teachers need to tell their stories about the harmful impacts of the 35-year-old PAT regime, not just the stress that students experience, but also the stress that is placed on classrooms in general. I think many people would be surprised to learn how many people-hours are spent in meetings and board-directed staff development days discussing PAT results and various related matters. Inordinate and unnecessary attention is paid to these instruments by the media, trustees, school board administrators and even parents. We need to talk about how this pressure is eroding rich learning in schools.
We know three things principally about standardized tests: (1) they measure parental income levels are most effective at; (2) they assess only a small fraction of the learning that goes on in schools; and (3) the results come too late to actually help students who need it.
We also need to tell our stories about the Student Learning Assessments (SLAs). The minister is assessing the value of these tools now as well. So, whether or not you are teaching Grade 3, whether or not you are in the pilot this year, your experience related to SLAs needs to be considered before important decisions are made.
If Minister Eggen is “committed to finding the best testing model for our students,” then teachers need to make their voices heard. ❚
I welcome your comments—contact me at email@example.com.