Highlights from the legislature

January 17, 2012 Shelley Svidal, ATA News Staff

Redford cites “incredible frustration with standardized tests” as legislature adjourns

The legislative assembly adjourned December 7 after sitting for 47 days in 2011. While private school funding received a fair amount of attention as the session drew to a close, full-day kindergarten, diploma examinations and postsecondary education preparedness also came under scrutiny. Featured here are highlights of some of the proceedings that took place between ­November 28 and December 7.

Funding for Private Schools

November 29—Kent Hehr (LIB—Calgary-Buffalo), citing the admission policies of Edmonton Islamic Academy, Airdrie Koinonia Christian School and Immanuel Christian School in Lethbridge, asked Minister of Education Thomas Lukaszuk how he can persist in defending private schools that openly state they do not offer inclusive educational environments. Lukaszuk replied that Alberta parents are accorded choice: if they choose to send their children to charter and private schools at a higher cost, then they are free to do so. Hehr asked Lukaszuk to require publicly funded schools to enrol students with special needs. ­Lukaszuk replied that, while ­Alberta ­Education funds the cost of instructing the core curriculum, parents are on the hook for the rest. Hehr asked Lukaszuk why taxpayers’ dollars are given to schools not interested in providing an open and inclusive environment. Lukaszuk replied that if a private school were to refuse to admit a child with special needs, he and his office would investigate. He added that he is not aware of any such situations at present.

December 7—Harry Chase (LIB—Calgary-Varsity) asked Premier Alison Redford whether the government would eliminate provincial achievement tests as she and Lukaszuk have suggested. “It’s been very clear over this year that there is incredible frustration with standardized tests,” Redford replied. “We are currently in the process, as the minister of education goes around the province consulting on the new Education Act, of ensuring that we’re reflecting the fact that Albertans think that these don’t actually allow us to measure the outcomes that we need to.” Chase asked Redford why government has given another $4 million to the Calgary-based Webber Academy, which already has $33 million in cash and land assets. Redford replied that the government is committed to the public ­education system and to ensuring that it is not second-class. Chase asked Redford to justify the ­government’s subsidization of private schools. Redford replied that the government offers Albertans choice. “Our responsibility as a government . . . is to ensure that we deliver a public education system that allows every child in Alberta to thrive, and we’re going to do that,” she said.

Early Childhood Education

November 29—Kyle Fawcett (PC—Calgary-North Hill), noting that many Albertans view universal full-day kindergarten as “glorified daycare,” asked Lukaszuk whether he supports implementation of universal full-day kindergarten. Lukaszuk replied that there is a big ­difference between daycare and kindergarten: while daycare has no educational requirements, early intervention has positive effects on children’s cognitive development. Fawcett asked Lukaszuk whether it makes sense to implement universal full-day kindergarten when only a small percentage of students benefit from it. Lukaszuk reiterated that full-day kindergarten has positive effects on children’s cognitive development. Fawcett asked Lukaszuk whether, rather than implementing universal full-day kindergarten, it would make more sense for government to create a social innovation fund targeted at early childhood development. Lukaszuk replied that government is asking all Albertans to share their views on full-day versus half-day kindergarten and mandatory versus optional kindergarten.

Provincial Diploma Examinations

December 1—Naresh Bhardwaj (PC—Edmonton-Ellerslie) cited a University of Saskatchewan study suggesting that Alberta high school graduates are best prepared for postsecondary education, “with a substantially smaller reduction in their grades as compared to their peers from other provinces.” He asked ­Lukaszuk how his ministry ensures that diploma examinations fairly test students’ cognitive skills. Lukaszuk replied that the examinations are designed to test not only the curriculum but also students’ ability. Bhardwaj asked Lukaszuk whether, given that the examinations are worth 50 per cent of students’ final grade, he is confident that they are balanced, soundly constructed and completely reflective of curriculum objectives. “I am confident that the exam is doing what it is designed to do,” Lukaszuk replied, “but on whether the balance should be 50-50 or 40-60 or another combination, I’m always open to this discussion.” Bhardwaj asked Lukaszuk what he would do to promote consistent standards across the country. Lukaszuk replied that, at the next meeting of provincial and territorial ministers of education, he would encourage “other provinces to look at the Alberta experience and to adjust their testing practices to make sure that they don’t artificially inflate their graduates’ marks and so that we have a level ­playing field.”

Postsecondary Education Preparedness

November 28—Bhardwaj asked Lukaszuk what processes are in place to ensure that Alberta students are not shortchanged on scholarships and postsecondary seats when students in other provinces benefit from lower standards and grade inflation. Citing a University of Saskatchewan study, Lukaszuk noted that the difference between Alberta students’ high school and postsecondary marks is the lowest in the country. Bhardwaj asked Minister of Advanced Education and Technology Greg Weadick what government is doing to ensure that Alberta students are treated equally by postsecondary institutions. Weadick replied that, while postsecondary institutions set their own admission requirements, Alberta gives its students “the appropriate schooling and education so that they can be successful.”

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